Friday, January 13, 2017

Tomato Bisque

As promised, below is the recipe for the Tomato Bisque I made for my birthday dinner.  Bisque is really just a fancy name for an exceptionally creamy, silky soup.  I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did.

Creamy Tomato Bisque

Note: This general technique works equally well with just about any vegetable that will puree smoothly once cooked.  You can even add fruits like apples or pears.  Just a week after I made the tomato version, I used-up some leftover carrots, purple sweet potatoes, celery, and onion to make a mixed vegetable bisque with a gentle purple hue and delicious creamy flavor.

2 28-oz cans Whole or Crushed Tomatoes
2 sprigs fresh basil
4 cups chicken broth
1 small onion, minced
1/2 cup heavy cream or half & half
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil

1) In a large soup pot, heat olive oil and saute onions and a pinch of salt gently until they begin to soften.

2) If using whole tomatoes, crush them with your hands.  Add all tomatoes and the entire sprigs of basil and stock to the pot.

3) Simmer mixture, stirring occasionally, until well cooked and the tomatoes are soft (about 30 minutes).  Remove from heat and fish-out the basil leaves and stems.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4) Using a handheld blender or working in small batches using a jar blender, blend the mixture into as smooth a puree as you can.  Move the puree to a bowl or another pan and clean-out the original pan.

5) Working 1 or 2 ladlefuls at a time, pass the mixture through a fine mesh sieve back into the original pan.  Use the bottom of the ladle to push as much tomato flesh through the mesh as you can.  Discard any stubborn bits of flesh remaining in the sieve.

6) Stir-in cream and adjust seasoning to taste.  Add more cream if you wish.

7) Re-heat the soup gently so that the cream doesn't curdle and serve hot in a shallow bowl.  Optionally garnish with a dollup of sour cream, crackers, or homemade croutons.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Galette

My birthday happens to fall on New Year's Day, so it's always been a "Family Dinner" kind of celebration rather than a "Party With Friends" type--even when I was a child.  It fell not only on a holiday, but also during school vacation week.

In recent years, I've made a habit of making my own birthday meal.  This confounds my family, who don't understand why anyone would ever want to, "slaver over a stove," on his birthday.  I usually explain that cooking is my hobby and this is the one day of the year where I get to choose the menu 100% and throw a dinner party just because I want to and it's my special day.

This year, I decided to do a multi-course meal where the first two courses were actually served (by me) and the main course was served family-style on platters.  I've never actually done this before, mostly because it's difficult to bring out one course at a time and still be a guest at your own party.  So I made it easy on myself.  The first course was a creamy tomato bisque and the second was a mushroom galette (mushroom tart).  The soup could be easily reheated on the back burner and the tart could be served room-temperature or slightly warmed in the oven.

Anyway, both recipes were FANTASTIC and I want to share them with you here on the blog.  First, I'll give you the galette recipe and tomorrow, I'll post the soup.


Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Galette

1 regular pie or puff pastry crust
12 to 16 oz Baby Bella (Cremini) or Mixed Wild Mushrooms, sliced
1 large red onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup white or red wine
1/2 cup water
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 to 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
salt & pepper to taste
2 oz goat cheese or feta (optional)
Egg Wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water)

1) In a large saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the sliced onions and a pinch of salt.  Saute until the onions begin to soften.

2) Add water and cover, allowing the onions to steam and soften further.  Once they are tender with a little resistance left, remove the cover and allow the water to evaporate.  Remove onions to a bowl to cool.

3) If saute pan is excessively dirty, clean it out.  Return pan to heat and melt the butter with the olive oil.  Add mushrooms and a pinch of salt and saute until all the liquid has evaporated and mushrooms are cooked through.

4) Add a little more oil to an empty area of the pan and saute the garlic and thyme in the oil, stirring to keep it from burning.

5) Add the wine and continue cooking, allowing the wine to cook down into the mushrooms.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and remove the mushrooms to a bowl to cool.

6) Pre-heat oven to 475 (or whatever the puff pastry package says if using puff pastry).  If using pie pastry, roll it out into a circle or rectangle on a piece of parchment paper.  If using puff pastry, defrost it according to the package directions and roll it gently a bit to "iron-out" the seams where it was folded.

7) Gently transfer the pastry and parchment paper to a sheet pan.  Spread the onions evenly over the pastry, followed by the mushrooms, leaving about a 1-inch border around the edges.

8) Begin to fold the border in over the filling so that a rustic-looking rim is created around the edge of the galette.  Dot the top with cheese, if using.  Paint the edges of the pastry with egg wash.

9) Bake at  until the edges are golden brown and shiny.  Puff pastry should be puffed, golden, and crispy.

10) Slice and serve warm or room-temperature.  If your galette is circular, slice as you would a pizza or pie.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Brunch! And a Recipe for Chocolate Rum Bread Pudding

Last year, almost to the day, I wrote a post about how to do brunch for New Year's Day (after you wake-up late from all that post-midnight celebrating).  I think it's still completely relevant, so I wanted to remind you of the post as a refresher this year:

Additionally, I wanted to share a recipe for Bread Pudding that I made this year for Christmas Brunch.  I think this is my favorite bread pudding recipe of all because it comes out golden, puffy, and a little crispy on top while still thick and french-toasty underneath.

Enjoy, and Happy New Year!

Chocolate Rum Bread Pudding

Note: This recipe was adapted to my tastes from an America's Test Kitchen recipe and is quite flexible.  If you prefer, you may use raisins instead of chocolate chips.  Simply soak them in the alcohol or some hot water to plump them up a bit.  Alcohol can be omitted or you can substitute some of your favorite flavored liqueurs.  I like to serve it with Maple Syrup like French Toast.  However, syrup may be substituted for some of the brown sugar to give it a deeper maple flavor.  Cubes of cream cheese tucked into the bread are also a nice tangy surprise.

1 large loaf Sturdy White Bread or Challah
2 cups Half & Half
2 cups Milk
3/4 cup Dark Rum or Bourbon
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups packed Brown Sugar
1 tablespoon Vanilla Extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups Chocolate Chips
pinch of salt

3 tablespoons Granulated Sugar
6 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2) Cut or tear bread into 1-inch chunks.
3) Place half of the bread in the bottom of a 13x9 inch glass baking dish.  Sprinkle half of the chocolate chips over the bread.  Cover with remaining bread, followed by the remaining chocolate chips. 
4) In a large bowl, mix the brown sugar, salt, spices, and all wet ingredients thoroughly with a whisk until the sugar dissolves.
5) Pour wet mixture over the bread, pressing down on the bread so the mixture soaks-in evenly.  Allow to stand up to an hour so the bread can hydrate.
6) Sprinkle the white sugar evenly over the top of the bread.  Dot with cubes of butter.
7) Bake at 350 degrees until the top is brown and puffed and the center barely jiggles, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Prep it the Night Before!
To prepare this dish the night before, cube the bread and place it back into the bread bag to store overnight.  Combine the wet mixture in a 2-quart jar or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid.  Shake vigorously to combine and refrigerate overnight.  In the morning, while the oven is pre-heating, re-shake the mixture and assemble the casserole as described above.  Bake as normal.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

My Favorite Things: Magnetic Paint Primer

Back in 2011, I was inspired by Oprah's "Favorite Things" episode to do my own version highlighting some of my favorite kitchen and cooking-related items that make great gifts during the holdays.  This year, I've decided to expand the idea to include some general household and organizing items that I find useful or indispensable.  Happy Holidays!

Today's favorite thing is kind of crafty.  It's called magnetic primer for painted walls.

Photo borrowed from The Interwebs since our project isn't done yet ;-)

Awhile back, my wife and I decided to renovate a small nook in our dining room into a "Family Central" with a small writing desk, a laptop, and some sort of wall-mounted paper-hanging device to keep track of the various bits of paper and things we need to track the family's activities and obligations.  We didn't really want a chalkboard wall, a whiteboard, or a cork board, so what could we use?

I'd remembered seening a Rustoleum product used on This Old House that was a primer filled with iron shavings.  You simply paint several coats on the wall and then go over it with your regular latex paint.  The end result is a section of wall that looks entirely normal except magnets will stick to it.  Brilliant!

It turns out the Rustoleum product has pretty bad reviews.  People report it is hard to work with, requires paint thinner cleanup, and magnets don't stick very well.  I found another product by MagnaMagic that's much more expensive but had much better reviews and cleans-up with water.  Win-win!

Unfortunately, we haven't finished the project yet, so I can't show you a photo.  But I did put a little on a paint stirrer and I was impressed by its magnetic power after only a single coat dried.  I think it's going to work really well!

You could really get creative with this stuff.  Paint small sections of it on objects and you can stick magnets to them.  Make children's toys and learning devices with little sheets of wood.  I've considered putting it on a couple of doors at kid height so my daughter will stop putting scotch tape all over the woodwork.  I've also thought that a few carefully-placed stripes of it horizontally all the way around a teenager's bedroom or a classroom might make it easier and less-damaging to hang posters and artwork without thumbtacks or tape.  Every wall would be a hidden gallery wall.

Disclaimer:  All opinions on these products are my own and I've purchased these items myself or received them as gifts from friends and family.  I don't even receive a kickback from Amazon for the links, so feel free to buy from your favorite local kitchen supplier.  They'll appreciate the business!

Friday, December 16, 2016

My Favorite Things: Joy Tea

Back in 2011, I was inspired by Oprah's "Favorite Things" episode to do my own version highlighting some of my favorite kitchen and cooking-related items that make great gifts during the holdays.  This year, I've decided to expand the idea to include some general household and organizing items that I find useful or indispensable.  Happy Holidays!

I'm a daily tea drinker and I go through phases where I'll drink fancy or flavored teas and then revert back to plain old supermarket black tea for awhile.  I generally don't like fruit or herbal teas that have no real green or black tea in them.  One thing I seem to never tire of, however, is a blend called "Joy" that is available at Starbucks every holiday season.

Joy is not your typical Christmas blend of cinnamon and spices.  Instead, it's a blend of Black, Green, and Oolong teas with a hint of apricot essence.  I absolutely love this as an everyday drinking tea.  Unfortunately, when it first came out, it was made by Tazo (owned by Starbucks) and was only available in Starbucks and only during the holiday season.  When Starbucks bought Teavana about two years ago, they had Teavana re-blend it (it tastes even better) and sold it for a higher price-point under the Teavana brand, still only at Starbucks and occasionally, you could find it on Amazon.

I fully admit to splurging and stocking-up on this stuff every year so I could drink it well into the summer before I'd run out (it makes a great iced tea, as well!).  Then, I'd have to wait till it showed-up in stores again.

As it happens, I'm not the only one who loves Joy, so Teavana took the same recipe, renamed it "Rev Up Wellness Tea" and started selling it by the ounce in their retail shops year-round!  It also appears they're selling it under the Joy moniker in Teavana stores and online this holiday season.

Disclaimer:  All opinions on these products are my own and I've purchased these items myself or received them as gifts from friends and family.  I don't even receive a kickback from Amazon for the links, so feel free to buy from your favorite local kitchen supplier.  They'll appreciate the business!