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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Italian Wedding on a Weeknight

I couldn't resist the escarole at the Farmer's Market, and I already had a Big Bag o' Chard in the fridge, so I needed to do something with it, FAST. (Both of those lovely tasty greens occupy big fridge space.)

I had never eaten "Italian Wedding Soup", but had heard stories of its tastiness on RFC, so I looked up some web recipes as a refresher. I also remembered happily that I had a big container of homemade chicken broth in my extremely full freezer. So I pulled it out and went to Trader Joe's in search of meatballs.

I did a lot of things in the kitchen while the meatballs and broth were thawing, including roasting a chicken. The defatted drippings went into the soup.

It was extremely good, even without the traditional finishes of egg-drop or Parmesan. Next time I have a large container of broth, I'm going to think about finding some escarole (will have to look under its alternate chicory or endive names; must confirm which is which) and making it. If you get meatballs from your deli or freezer case, most of the hard work is done (thus the title of this post). They can thaw, if necessary, in your fridge during the day.

Quick Italian Wedding Soup

Chop up:

One onion
4 carrots
4 ribs celery

and saute them in some olive oil in a Dutch or French oven until the onions look done.

Then add:

2 cloves chopped garlic

and saute for another minute or so.

While this is all happening, wash

One large head escarole (like spinach, it can keep dirt, so be careful)

and cut it into ribbons.


About six cups chicken broth

and bring it up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and simmer, covered, for a few minutes. Most recipes say an hour, this is not necessary IMO.

Salt to taste.

Add the meatballs (I used TJ's frozen Italian-style beef meatballs, the whole package) and greens and simmer covered for 20 minutes.

Finish off by either making egg-drops in the soup with 1-2 eggs or throwing a good hand of Parmesan in. (The reviews on this soup was that it looked weird but tasted great.) But I haven't even done that yet, the chicken broth and the delicate veggie taste is so good. This would also be good minus meatballs as escarole soup but the meatballs make it meal-worthy.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Fall Farmer's Market

Fall is definitely in the air; more squashes and fewer peaches. I was glad that the big rainstorm passed over my vendor of Italian-type veggies.

Got some pancetta at Fatted Calf.. Mmmm, soup.

I keep forgetting to bring my camera to record the bounty. The peppers are very nice.

Speaking of peppers, I forgot to buy baby ones at Trader Joe's this morning. I hate when I shop without a list. Forgot sundried tomatoes in oil, too. Will see if I have some in the cabinet as the monster minestrone simmers. I will need to eat the chard today to clear out some room in the fridge.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

End of Summer Comfort Food

Today (or was it yesterday) was the first day of Fall, although usually around here we are really just kicking into our summer like weather at the time. We got an early intro to the rainy season on Sunday, which does not bode well for the tomato supply. (They usually stop appearing after the rains start, and there was hail up in the Valley.)

I did make one of my favorite summer comfort food dishes, which can actually be done with roasted Romas "off season" (much to my delight). I got this originally from Janet Fletcher's "Pasta Harvest". I eyeball quantities.

Marinated Tomato with Goat Cheese Pasta

For each person, slice some excellent tomatoes very thinly into a serving bowl of some sort. The equivalent of one big beefsteak per person is good. I particularly like Brandywines in this.

Put a couple of tablespoons of good olive oil and a crushed clove of garlic or two in each bowl. Stir a little and let marinate.

Get some fresh goat cheese out and slice off a couple of slices for each person.

Heat up water and boil pasta. I like fusilli or farfalle for this. Original recipe had spaghetti.

Wash and slice some fresh basil leaves. Tear or cut in chiffonade. Use about a handful for each dish.

Just before the noodles are done, crumble about half the goat cheese in the dish. Place the hot drained noodles in and immediately top with the rest. Toss vigorously to coat. The cheese should melt.

Add the basil and a spoonful of capers. Serve.

No photos because when I made it, it didn't look great. It's tasty, though.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

IMBB #8 Roundup

45 cooks participated in the eighth "Is My Blog Burning- Lift your Spirits High!" blog cooking event hosted by Donna from "There's a Chef in my Kitchen".

The lineup looks out-stand-ing (hic). Charlotte Bob says check it out. THANKS DONNA!!

That also reminds me that I need to make some Kahlua truffles ... yum.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Sesame-Peanut Noodles

Well, I had a chance to revisit the Cook's Illustrated Sesame Chicken Noodles (previous blog entry here) and I am glad that I did.

It was much better when I more or less followed the recipe, and didn't over-toast the sesame seeds. I did make some tweaks to make it even easier.

Sesame-Peanut Sauce
after Cook's Illustrated, Sesame Noodles with Shredded Chicken, Sept/Oct 2004

1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted, or 1/4 cup roasted sesame tahini and some sesame seeds to toast
1/4 cup chunky peanut butter
2 medium garlic cloves
Thumb-sized joint of fresh ginger (1 tbs grated)
5 tablespoons lower salt soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons lightly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon hot sauce (Tabasco or Asian)
Hot water

CI says to toast the seeds, stirring frequently, in a medium pan and reserve 1 tablespoon for garnish. Be careful not to burn them if you do this.

If you have a FP, no need to to grate the garlic and ginger first ... just peel the ginger with a teaspoon, peel the garlic, chop them up rough, and put them in and process till they are nice and mushy. If you have a blender, do grate/smoosh first.

Add the seeds or tahini, peanut butter, soy sauce, hot sauce, vinegar, and sugar. Process or blend until smooth. Taste and adjust. On my second run I added 1 tablespoon more peanut butter and more ginger. Thin to heavy cream consistency by adding hot water, 1 tbs at a time, with machine running.

Serve with noodles. Use Asian-style fresh noodles (1 lb) or spaghetti (12 oz). Cook, drain, rinse with cold water, drain again, then toss with 2 tbs sesame oil.

CI includes instructions for broiling chicken breasts (and pulling them apart with forks). I oven-poached tenders and chopped it. CI says 1 shredded carrot and 4 green onions for 12 oz noodles, which is not enough vegetables in my opinion. I used julienned carrots from Trader Joe's (a lot), green onions, and red bell peppers (sliced thin).

Serve by mixing sauce into noodle/chicken/veg mixture, then tossing to combine. Garnish with remaining sesame seeds.

I'm going to do this again with twice the peanut butter, which will be an easier way to approach my old favorite, Spicy Peanut Sauce from Cooking Light. No simmering, no grating ginger sort of thing.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

IMBB 8 - Wine and Spirits

IMBB #8- Lift your Spirits High

Donna of There's a Chef in my Kitchen announced a theme of "Wine and Spirits" for the eighth IMBB event.

Now that is a subject near and dear to my heart, but at the time I learned about it, California was undergoing a heat wave and I wasn't interested in putting together beef burgundy, or my Italian-style pot roast (simmered with tomato sauce, onions, red bell peppers, and a glug or five of red wine), or lamb shanks. (Although maybe someone will post an excellent recipe for sangria.) I also thought that a lot of people might be making "dinner", so my thoughts turned to another subject near and dear to my heart: breakfast. With that in mind, I offer two early-morning items, one suitable for high festivals (Kahlua Eggnog) and one for "everyday" (Banana Bread a la Domestic Goddess). These can be either the hair of the dog, or a great start to the day, depending on how you look at it.

Recipe Number One: Bill's Kahlua Eggnog

I mentioned earlier in this blog that my mom had typed up a binder with her favorite (and some of my favorite) recipes. (Which is a great idea and please do so with your cooking relatives, and pass it along.) She has been a frequent contributor to fundraiser cookbooks, but one of the recipes that often appears is ALWAYS credited to my father. (Who is actually fairly competent in the kitchen, although he usually deals with the Grilling, Carving, and General Dogsbody departments.) It is a highlight of our Thanksgiving and Christmas mornings and puts us in a right festive mood. You will need a sturdy electric blender. Notes on ingredients follow.

Bill's Kahlua Eggnog

For each person:

1 1/2 fl. oz. Kahlua (use a jigger if you have one)
1 1/2 fl. oz. half and half (light cream) (1)
1 teaspoon vanilla (2) (or half jigger)
1/2 teaspoon simple syrup (3) (1/4-1/3 jigger)
1 large egg (4)
3 heaping tablespoons crushed ice (5)

Blend together. There will be some teeny tiny pieces of ice but you want the big chunks gone. Serve immediately in a fancy glass. This makes a full goblet or double-old-fashioned glass' worth. I usually describe it as a coffee milkshake with a kick.

Notes on Ingredients:

1. You can improvise by mixing milk and cream.
2. You don't have to use the extra-good stuff. Reasonable supermarket will do.
3. If you can't find it commercially (Trader Vic's Rock Candy Syrup is one brand), make your own by combining one cup sugar and one cup water, and bringing to the boil. Store the result in the fridge.
4. We use regular eggs and we buy them fresh for this. You can use pasteurized or egg beaters, or just not serve it to the raw-egg sensitive.
5. Mallets, hammers, and rolling pins all make good instruments for crushing ice (double plastic bagged) and it's kinda fun. You might want to do that ahead though.

Recipe Number Two: Banana Bread a la Domestic Goddess

Silly note: This is doubly appropriate today, Talk Like A Pirate Day. You'll see why in a moment.

I had heard that the banana bread recipe in Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess was very good, and on trying it, I found it to be so. It is in most respects what I consider to be a bog-standard all-American banana bread, but the rum raisins elevate it from ordinary okay to Most Excellent. The booze bakes out, so you can feed it to children (etc.), but the flavor remains. This is one of my standard breakfast breads, along with the raspberry muffins I got from DG, and the Orange Nut Bread I got from Williams-Sonoma Muffins. I don't follow the recipe as-is, but will give it as written, with my usual tweaks.

Banana Bread a la Domestic Goddess
Nigella Lawson, with variations by Charlotte


1/2 cup or more raisins
3 oz (6 TBS) bourbon or rum

1 cup plus 2 TBS all purpose flour (I use 1 1/3 cup)
2 tea baking powder
1/2 tea baking soda
1/2 tea salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter (to be melted) (1 stick or 4 oz)
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs

Very ripe bananas, mashed - 4 small (bananas in the UK must be tiny by US standards, I use 3 regular or 2 large and will adjust flour up or down as needed)

1/4 cup chopped walnuts (I always use more)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

An hour or more before you want to make this, put 1/2 cup (or more if you like it, and I do) raisins (Nigella says golden but I use Thompson Seedless) and the bourbon or rum (yo-ho-ho) in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let plump for an hour or more. Drain.

Important Safety Tip! Rum has a low ignition point so once it comes to the boil, take it off immediately. It ignited once on me and burned my hair. Fortunately there was no injury except to my vanity. And, yes, I have made this since.

When you are ready to get on with the rest, preheat oven to 325 F. Butter and flour a 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 loaf pan (Nigella says 9*5 but I find the smaller size better).

Put flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and mix to combine.

Melt the butter in a large bowl. Add the sugar and beat until blended. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then the mashed bananas.

Then (Nigella specifies a wooden spoon, and it works) stir in the walnuts, drained raisins, and vanilla.

Add flour mixture 1/3 at a time to combine.

Scrape into the loaf pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, till it tests clean(ish). Cool the pan on a rack and slice to serve.

Monday, September 13, 2004


Inspired by my visit to North Beach, I tried my hand at making rosemary focaccia. I am not much of a yeast baker as we have excellent bakeries here in Berkeley, but this seemed like a manageable project and something I could not easily buy.

I had two recipes that were pretty similar and ended up taking Angela's from A Spoonful of Sugar.

Well, I would have ... but again, in my distracted state, I left something out. I was wondering why the dough was not loose, and realized that I hadn't put the olive oil in. This is important. I did knead it in, and the results were both tasty and yummy looking in their golden rosemary flecked goodness, but I really must try it again and do it right so I can reproduce it.

(Next up might be green onions on top, a la Liguria. I have quite a supply at the moment.)

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Noodling around

I did finally make the "Sesame Chicken" from the latest Cook's Illustrated. Well, I didn't follow the recipe in my somewhat distracted state, so I ended up tweaking, and then tweaking back, but it's got real potential. One of my tweaks (as I over toasted the sesame some) was putting in twice the quantity of peanut butter, and it thus resembled the Spicy Peanut Sauce I got from Cooking Light. With less work in some departments (no dirty saucepan or requirement to simmer). I also strongly preferred the More Veggie aspect of the Cooking Light original version, as the grated carrots just weren't enough for me. I will be doing this again (with the shortcut of using tahini, although the toasted seeds on the finished dish were mighty tasty) and working up Spicy Peanut-Sesame Sauce when I have a chance. It deserves inclusion in the weeknight repertory. Excellent comfort food!

Tuesday, September 07, 2004


When life gives you squishy tomatoes ... make gazpacho.


The heat has continued. I am not much interested in cooking (surprise) but noted this morning as I was doing Kitchen Patrol that a number of the tomatoes on the dish had developed soft spots. As I had provided myself with a cucumber (in an attempt at Unsympathetic Food Magick), the solution was obvious. I figured that either the heat would break, or I would have something suitable to eat.

It turned out to be very pretty as I had green, red, yellow, and orange tomatoes and orange and yellow peppers. Since I had an English cucumber, I only half-peeled some strips off, so the soup was greener than usual.

This recipe is a bit free form as I tend to make it with what I've got, didn't measure the tomatoes once chopped to see amounts, and definitely do the sherry vinegar by taste.


In a non-reactive container of some sort, combine:

Selection of ripe tomatoes, diced in thumbnail or smaller pieces
(this is really pretty if you have multi-colored) - I think this worked out to about three medium, although you should play this one by ear
1 sweet bell pepper, diced (yellow or orange is attractive)
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 cucumber, seeded, peeled or diced or 1/2-2/3 English cucumber (seeding and peeling not quite so important, but dice)

Good quality tomato juice. Sacramento Tomato is good. I usually use a 14 oz can or two of "Spicy V-8" juice as I can find it more reliably in my grocery.
2-3 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar or more to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Normally I put in a shallot, diced fine. This time I passed on it. Most recipes call for raw onion, which I don't much like. It was fine without it. I also often make this before real tomatoes have come in (one of our standard hot seasons is in April) with Muir Glen diced.

Chill this for at least an hour. You can encourage it by putting ice cubes in the bowl.

I eat this with croutons, made by dicing sourdough bread and frying up in olive oil with Penzey's "Sandwich Sprinkle" as seasoning. As I had hard-boiled eggs around, I diced one up and put it on top, too.

[Since I am clearing this post out of draft, I will note that the heat stayed as long as the soup did.]

More soup

Monday, September 06, 2004

North Beach Wanderings

(Dusting some things out of draft)

No cooking (who could cook in that heat?) but lots of very pleasant eating and drinking.

B. and I went off to North Beach yesterday on a walk-and-nosh tour. I parked at Sutter Stockton and went through the tunnel, through the teeming mass of humanity that is Chinatown doing its Sunday outing for dim sum and groceries. I had to resist the siren call of dim sum, pastries, and groceries myself. After a cut over to Columbus, and resisting the siren call of Italian pastries, we met in front of SS. Peter and Paul and immediately headed off to the Liguria Bakery and apparently scored the last two pieces of onion focaccia, wrapped in paper and tied up with string. This was a bit of a sentimental journey for B. as his dad used to work Saturdays and bring it home as a treat. The place hasn't changed in all that time. I don't remember going in it when I lived in SF though (or it had been a while). It is across the street from Mama's, of "Tales of the City" brunch fame (well, to me).

We went off in search of Caffe Trieste, but misjudged the cross streets and ended up wandering in the heat. As we made another pass down Columbus I steered us into the Stella Bakery, which I had passed on the way up. We had iced coffee and tarts and provided "street color" for the busload of tourists that went by. I had my berries-and-custard tart and he had a pear-frangipane one.

Refreshed, we set out for City Lights, and had a restorative Anchor at the Vesuvio first. We browsed for a while and then went off in search of lunch. I was indecisive (it really was quite hot and my brain was fried) and we ended up at Figaro, which had excellent food (if screamingly loud music). My fried calamari was very tasty, as was the basil gnocchi. I also drank most of a pitcher of water.

After hearing high vespers at St. Francis, we saw "$1 Beer" at the SF Brewing Company. Turned out to be a bit misleading but the beer tasted good on such a hot day.

Dinner that night was onion foccaccia with parmesan and heirloom tomatoes. Ahhhh.