New Year, Old Recipes, Same Delicious Food

Its been a few weeks.  Months.  I wish I had a good reason for neglecting this blog, but really, I don’t.  Writers fall into funks and make excuses, but the important thing is to pull yourself out of it.  And what better time than a brand new year?  I have two recipes to share today, and both of them were made on the same day wayyy back at the end of September.   Lasagna Soup and Beatty’s Chocolate Cake made up my mother’s birthday dinner.  It may have been way back at the beginning of fall, but this Lasagna Soup is perfect for the dead of winter (though it was a balmy 60 degrees on Long Island today so I’d say that’s pretty lively).

A bowl of hearty lasagna soup.

What’s not to love, right?  I think this is a great alternative to lasagna because it’s nowhere near as fussy.  No messing with  assembly stations and making all the components separately.  The only thing you have to make outside of the stockpot is a small bowl of ricotta and Parmesan cheeses mixed together.  Other than that, this dish is a one stop shop.  It’s got all the   main players from lasagna: cut up sausage, pasta with frills, onion, garlic, a tomato sauce (or broth really) and of course, the cheese.  Also this soup allows for everyone to control the level of cheese based on their preferences.  So, if Aunt Sally always complains there’s too much ricotta in the lasagna (do people really complain about this?!?!), she can put as much or as little as she wants at the bottom of the bowl before she ladles the hot soup over top.

The recipe is pretty straightforward too, brown the sausage, cut it into little rounds, and then saute the onions for a few minutes:

Sausage and onions gettin' down (dirtier than I intended).

Then add the garlic, spices, and tomato paste and saute a bit more to let the paste warm through:

Sausage and onions and garlic and tomato paste, oh my!

The you add diced tomatoes, bay leaves and chicken stock; bring it to a boil, and let it simmer for a half hour:

Ooooh the tomatoey goodness!

And finally, after it’s cooked down a bit, add the uncooked pasta of your choice.  Now, the recipe calls for Mafalda  or fusilli, but since Mafalda (or reginette) are hard to find around here and I don’t care much for fusilli, I was forced to make an alternate selection.  I settled on Campanelle (or what my beloved Italian grandmother called ‘bluebells’) because they have a frilly edge to them which is reminiscent of lasagna, but easier to eat on a spoon:

A little blurry, but I can see enough to make me crave this RIGHT NOW.

Put a little cheese (okay a lot people, new year’s resolutions be damned!) on the bottom of your bowl, ladle this beautiful soup on top, and enjoy.

And now onto what I suspect most of you come here for, the dessert.  And the chocolate.  And also this time, some coffee, in your dessert.

Come to the VERY dark side.

Alright so I know these look like cow pies, but I promise you, they form the most delicious chocolate cake I have ever eaten.  And I generally prefer yellow or vanilla cakes.  This cake easily changed my mind.  One note: the batter may seem strangely thin for a cake, but take heed, this is completely normal.  Mine seemed thin but I trusted the recipe and it came out wonderful. The buttermilk keeps the cake unbelievably moist, and on the counter in a plastic domed cake carrier, it stayed that way for an entire week (the last piece had barely dried out at all, and I can speak from personal experience :)).

Lopsided is still every bit as heavenly!

Now if you have it out for buttercream you may balk at the frosting, but I have had many buttercreams I found to be excessively buttery–and this was not one of them.  The bitterness of the instant coffee along with the slight bitterness of the chocolate really balanced out the butter.  I have trouble describing how much I love this cake and what that means considering my sometimes turbulent relationship with chocolate and its various uses and preparations.  This is definitely a must try!

And I leave you with this:

When I asked my mom what kind of cake she wanted for her birthday, her immediate, knee-jerk, one word reply: chocolate!

Here’s to a new year full of happy birthdays!

Soupe au Pistou (Ooh La La): The Stoup v. Stew Issue and “Blender Wars”

Greetings, friends.  Today I have another lesson to share with you.  If you’re making a soup with many vegetables, make sure you chop them all up before you really start the recipe, or you’ll be scrambling to get everything in on time.  This is the lesson my mother and I learned while making this lovely Soupe au Pistou. Find the recipe on Saveur’s website here.  Also cut back on your chopping by using the pre-cut bags of cabbage at the supermarket instead of buying the whole head and only using a quarter.

Soup

Okay so this is really more like stoup, whatevs.

Okay, so I know what you’re thinking…what is this pasta with the extremely thin sauce this girl is trying to pass off as soup?  Well, therein lies the pickle (or broth question).  In soups that contain pasta, I always feel there isn’t enough of it.  My family agrees in general that we would rather have more pasta and a stew-like consistency than feel like we’re getting gypped on the substantial stuff and get a load of broth.  Though this soup was so awesome, I’d probably like it either way.  And as pro-stoup as I am, next time I make this, I will probably up the amount of stock I use by a few cups just to get a tad more liquid.

But I digress, back to the flavor.  This is described by Saveur as a Provencal Vegetable soup, and to me, its like Minestrone’s cool cousin.  Less tomato juice makes the broth much richer and less bitey, which in this case I prefer.  Also, the pistou, the Provencal version of pesto (pistou, pesto, pistou, pesto) does not contain nuts, which made the herb flavor a little more  concentrated.  That worked perfectly with the soup, which doesn’t have any major flavorings other than garlic and those inherent in the stock and vegetables.  The soup alone is still very good, with solid flavors and a potpourri (oui oui) of vegetables.  But the pistou adds a wonderful layered brightness to the soup, with the parmesan cheese, basil and (surprise!) more garlic adding richness to the dish.  But the garlic flavor was very subtle, in the best way possible.  If only the pistou’s creation didn’t lead to a little something I like to call “Blender Wars.”

The further along I walk on this culinary path, the more evident it has become to me that a blender sometimes is just not an adequate substitute for a food processor.  Granted, I know (from the well-crafted article on pesto in Saveur where I got this recipe) that pesto in Italy was originally made using a mortar and pestle (which interestingly enough the author of said article says give it a more velvety, luxurious texture), so I shouldn’t really be complaining too much.  But I think many among us know the frustration that comes with hitting that pulse button and seeing liquid forming and the very bottom and the mass of ingredients stagnant at the top.  (Dear Santa, Please bring me a cuisinart with multiple settings and attachments)  But eventually, with a lot of teamwork and patience, it all came together.

Pistou-la-la

In the battle of Emily v. Blender, Emily takes all. BOOYAH.

Oh yea, I almost forgot, we made one of my favorite sandwiches- BATs (Bacon, Avocado, Tomato) to go along with our soup.  The recipe, is pretty simple, I gather you can do it yourself without me spelling it out any further (punny).  It’s really all about what kind of bread and spreads you like to complement it.  I used toasted pumpernickel and a light shmear of dijonaise , which worked out quite well.  I forgot to take a picture of my delicious sandwich because I inhaled it in about 2 minutes, but I did remember to get some delightful shots of the avocado and tomatoes, below are the best of the bunch.

Pistou and fresh veg, delish.

Guest appearance by the Pistou!

Sliced avocado and Local Grown Heirloom Tomato

That avocado was like BUTTAH. And word up fresh local grown Heirloom Tomatoes from Stop and Shop!

And finally, some gratuitous action shots from the soup construction.  SHIELD THE CHILDREN!

Crushing whole tomatoes into the soup.

Smashin some tomat-hoesss.

Sauteed veggies!

Nitty gritty shot of the veggies cookin downnnn.

Before spaghetti, after stock.

Everthings a-simmer. (Damn you bad lighting)

That’s it for today, happy cooking!