Monday, June 30, 2008

Sourdough Bread

I usually eat sourdough several times a month. It's pretty standard for me to go into the grocery store and buy a loaf of sourdough, a pound of meat, 1/4 pound of cheese, and be set for lunch for the next week. I've always loved the flavor of it, but never understood how easy it was to make it myself until I did some research. After reading a little, I decided to start an journey towards making my own sourdough bread.

This started a couple of weeks ago with the making of my sourdough starter. To sourdough purists, there shouldn't be any packaged yeast in the dough. It should all be pulled into the flour naturally, so that's what I set out to do. I combined 1/4 c. white all-purpose flour with 1/4 c. filtered water, covered it with a tea towel, and let it sit for 24 hours. After that time passed, I added another 1/4 c. of each and mixed it up. Gradually, yeast is pulled out of the atmosphere and into the sourdough starter. Every time you add flour and water, you're giving the yeast some more food to eat and multiply.

You essentially keep feeding the starter water and flour until you're ready to bake with it. If you feel that your starter is getting too big, you can easily take out as much as you're planning to add (i.e. you can mix up the starter, remove 1/2 c. of starter, replace with 1/4 c. flour and 1/4 c. water, that way you're still equal). Some people keep their starter around for years, and the older the sourdough starter the more developed the flavor becomes. When your starter finally becomes nice and bubbly (should take anywhere from 4 days to a week), you can cover it and store it in the fridge, then you only have to feed it once a week instead of daily.

You can tell it's ready when it gets a nice froth on top and turns bubbly. Don't worry too much about bacteria - a byproduct of yeast is ethanol, the same reason why beer and wine have alcohol in them. This ethanol is a natural defense mechanism, since most bacteria can't live in alcoholic conditions, and that can be used to our advantage to make sure that the starter remains bacteria-free. However, isn't a guarantee though. Always play it safe - if you start getting any pink or green colorings, immediately throw it away and start over.

Don't forget that this starter is your new pet. Sure it doesn't have to be taken for walks or cleaned, but it does need to be fed. You'd be sad if you went to make sourdough and found your colony of yeast had died off because you forgot to give them dinner.

After raising the little guys for a couple weeks, I decided it was time to sacrifice some of them and make some dough.

2 c. sourdough starter
2 t. salt
1/2 t. sugar
2 T. olive oil
3 c. flour

In a mixer with hook attachment, pour in the starter, salt, sugar, olive oil, and 1 c. flour. Mix until it just comes together, then add 1c. more flour. At this point, start to add the final cup of flour only a small amount at a time. Once the dough is no longer sticky and comes cleanly from the sides of the mixer, stop adding flour and knead the dough. This can be done by hand, but it's very convenient to use the mixer. I kneaded for about 10 minutes - sourdough takes a lot of kneading to make sure you get all the gluten into it. When your dough ball is kneaded to your content, place into a bowl with a small amount of olive oil and allow to rise from 6-12 hours. Sourdough takes longer than most breads to rise, so be patient.

Punch down the dough and spread into a rough rectangle with the dry side on top (the part that was exposed during the rising). Roll tightly to avoid air pockets, and form a loaf. Sprinkle some corn meal onto a baking pan and place your loaf on top, then spray with water and allow to proof for about 6 more hours, spraying with water periodically to keep the outside damp.

Make deep slashes into the dough (about 1/3 of the way into the dough) along the top, spaced about an inch apart. Place into a cold oven and spray once more with the water, then turn the oven to 425ºF. Rotate the loaf 180º every 10 minutes and spray with more water. This steam adds to the nice crust. Mine baked for a total of 35 minutes, but it could take longer depending on the oven.

Allow to cool completely before cutting - the bread continues to cook even when you remove it from the oven, and if you cut in too early it could let out too much steam and ruin the interior. Once it's cooled, slice and enjoy. This came out pleasantly more sour than I was expecting. I assumed that with a young starter, I wouldn't be able to get the bite that I was hoping for, but I was happily surprised. This little loaf packs a lot of flavor, and I'm looking forward to the next week's lunches - without having to buy my own sourdough for once.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Danish Braid

This month's Daring Bakers challenge was to create laminated dough and form at least one danish braid. Since there is enough dough for two, I decided to make both a savory and a sweet one.

The sweet one was filled with a mixture of black raspberries and ricotta, heated with sugar and vanilla to form a jam-like consistency. Because options of fillings can vary so much with these danishes, it's a great way to clean out the refrigerator (I happened to have the raspberries and ricotta sitting in the fridge, and couldn't think of what else to do with them). This one was a great breakfast or dessert snack, with friends and family loving it.

I was planning on doing another sweet danish after the first received such good reviews, but then a friend of mine requested I make something savory for a potluck. I decided to just use the rest of the danish dough I had laying around, and filled it with ham, gruyere cheese, mixed greens, and grilled white onions.

I got compliments at the party, but personally didn't like how it came out. The gruyere was much more pungent than I was expecting (and it wasn't my first time using this type of cheese, so it could very well have been the brand). If I were to do this again, I'd definitely use something a bit more fitting, perhaps a simple cheddar or provolone.

Detrempe (dough):
1 T. active dry yeast
1/2 c. whole milk
1/3 c. sugar
zest of 2 small lemons
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 large eggs (cold)
1/4 c. lemon juice
3 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. salt

Combine yeast and milk in a stand mixer with paddle attachment, and stir at low speed for a few minutes until creamy. Rub together the lemon zest and sugar until homogenous and VERY fragrant - a little tip I picked up from Dorie Greenspan's book (will make the whole area smell like lemons, it's great).

Slowly add this sugar to the stirring yeast mixture along with the vanilla extract and scrapped innards of the bean, eggs, and lemon juice. After it is well mixed, remove the paddle and add the hook attachment. Add the salt and flour, 1 cup at a time, while mixing at low speed. Once all the flour is incorporated, increase speed to medium and knead for 5 minutes, or until a smooth dough ball forms. Add flour as necessary 1T at a time until the dough is not sticky. Transfer to a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap, then refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Beurrage (butter brick):
2 sticks (16 T.) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 c. all-purpose flour

With a paddle attachment in a stand mixer, beat the flour and butter together until a smooth paste forms. Scrape the sides and attachment of the bowl, and beat again to make sure everything is incorporated.

Take the detrempe out of the refrigerator, and move to a floured surface. Roll into a rectangle, approximately 18"x13" and 1/4" thick. If sticky, dust lightly with flour. Spread the beurrage evenly over two thirds of this.

Fold in letter fashion, so the unbuttered third goes halfway into the buttered side (left to right), then the remaining buttered dough is folded on top of this new fold (right to left). Should be left with a rectangle 6"x13". Refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm the butter, then remove and roll the dough into another 18"x13" rectangle (the long point - 13" - will remain the long point - 18" - on this new roll; in other words, when the next folds come, the sides that were previously open should be closed). Fold in the same manner as before to make a 6"x13" rectangle. This is now the second turn. Repeat until 4 turns have been completed, refrigerating 30 minutes between each turn. When the final turn is done, refrigerate for at least 5 hours.

Raspberry and ricotta filling:
1 c. black raspberries
1/4 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. ricotta

The raspberries were previously frozen, so there was no need to mash them to get the juices flowing. Added all the ingredients in a small pot and stirred periodically over medium-high heat. Continue heating until most of the liquid has come off, leaving you with a filling the consistency of jam.

Forming the braid:
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut in half. Wrap up the remaining dough and store airtight in freezer, or refrigerator if it will be used within a few days. Roll the dough into a 14"x17" rectangle (does not need to be exact). Make diagonal cuts into the dough on the lengthwise side, going a bit more than 1/4 of the way into the center (I cut a bit too far into it my first go-around, so don't go as far in as the cuts pictured - also, I did thicker braids my second time).

Pour on the raspberry filling, and spread evenly on the uncut surface.

Tuck in the top and bottom ends (forgot to do that with this first braid), then start braiding by folding one of the right braids to the center, covering it with a braid from the left, covering that with a braid from the right, and repeat until the last braid has crossed. At this point, you can brush the top with an egg wash (1 egg yolk + 1 egg), though I avoided this and my braid still browned nicely. Spray cooking spray onto plastic wrap and cover the braid, then proof at room temperature for approximately 2 hours (could take longer or shorter depending on the temperature of your house - wait until it is risen and very soft to the touch). Towards the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400ºF. Bake the braid for 10 minutes, then pull out of the oven and rotate front to back, left to right, before putting back in. Decrease temperature to 350ºF and bake for another 10-20 minutes until crispy (mine was complete after 10). Once golden brown and delicious, remove from oven and allow to cool.

The savory filling is easy enough. I opened a small pack of ham and stacked it until it evenly covered the uncut dough, covered with a medium layer of gruyere cheese, roughly chopped a handful of greens and placed on top, followed by 1/3 of an onion, sliced and grilled.

As before, tuck in the ends and then cross over the cuts to form the braid.

Allow to proof as specified above, and bake in the same manner. Once complete, cut and serve. I prefer to cut between the braids if I can, so a clean cut and nice presentation is observed, but this can be difficult due to the nature of the braiding.

Remember, the fillings on these braids are completely up to you. The important part is to learn how to correctly make the laminated dough, and find out how to handle it. Once the method of laminated dough is learned, there are several pastry goodies you can make, such as croissants, moulins (windmills), turnovers, et cetera. With the various fillings available, the possibilities really are endless.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Banana Pecan Ice Cream

I finally did it. I went out and got an attachment for my stand mixer. It was a tough choice between the pasta maker or the ice cream maker. Weighing the pros and cons, I decided I'm happy enough making pasta by hand, but making ice cream by hand could be...well, a bit more difficult. Having made my first batch, I'm very pleased with the results!

After establishing that I was going to make ice cream, I threw the attachment bowl into the freezer for a few days while trying to find an excuse to go to the grocery store other than to buy a ton of cream. In the meantime, I tried to figure out what sort of ice cream I could make - classic vanilla like my mom used to make, something chocolaty, something daring? Then my roommate struck - he bought bananas in bulk and decided to store them in the freezer. I've shown him int he past what it'll do to a banana, when I make banana bread, but he just forgot I suppose. Anyways, now there's a bunch of bananas in our freezer, and I decided to make some banana bread (maybe tomorrow) and finally got the idea for a banana ice cream batter.

5 large (preferably over-ripe) bananas, frozen overnight and then thawed
1/2 lemon's juice
3/4 c. light corn syrup
1/2 T. vanilla extract
1 2/3 c. heavy cream
1 c. chopped pecans

Snip the end off the bananas and slop them into a bowl - they should come shooting out easily if you squeeze the banana from one end to the other like toothpaste. Add the lemon juice, corn syrup, vanilla extract, and cream. Find some sort of tool and smash it all up. It's fine if there's still chunks of banana, it gives the ice cream some nice variation.

Sure, it doesn't look like much at this point, but it'll get there. Hopefully if you're following this as a recipe, you'll have stored your ice cream attachment bowl in the freezer for at least a day...right? Good. While reading reviews on the attachment, I noted a lot of people just keep their bowls permanently in the freezer, because you never know when the urge comes to make a batch of good ice cream. I'm sure this recipe would work for any other ice cream maker as well, so just follow the maker's instructions.

Pour the batter into the ice cream attachment and stir until it is pretty thick. At this point, you can add the pecans. You don't want to add the pecans until the last few minutes (or any solids for that matter) because the force of gravity will just defeat the suspension you're hoping for.

After the ice cream has finished mixing, it'll be good to eat, BUT if you put it in some sort of storage and freeze it for a few hours, it'll have a better consistency. Unfortunately there was just a bit too much ice cream for the bowl I was trying to get it into, so I just had to eat a few spoonfuls. No, you don't get it, I had to. Otherwise it wouldn't fit. Don't judge me.

It ended up making a bit over one quart of ice cream. The chunks of pecan show up periodically, as do some leftover frozen bananas. I'm sort of wishing I had some sort of cake or something to serve this on top of, but this ice cream is definitely good enough by itself. Now if only I had an ice cream scoop so I could eat this in some civilized fashion...but oh well, time to dig in!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Black Cherry Cobbler

Well, I guess it's been a busy week because I haven't had anything to post on here. I'm starting to make my own sourdough starter, and that's a fun little experiment, but I haven't really had time to make anything new and exciting. This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was a Mixed Berry Cobbler. My dad was coming down to visit for a delayed father's day/birthday celebration, and his favorite pie has always been cherry, so I decided to tweak the recipe and make it a black cherry cobbler.

This recipe was extremely easy to throw together, and also easy to transport. I didn't have a deep-dish pie plate that Dorie recommends, but just went with a standard pie plate and used 4 cups of cherries rather than 5. I made sure to have a sheet pan underneath while cooking to avoid any massive spills, but not too much of the filling ended up spilling out. It bubbled away merrily, but stayed in its pan.

The end result didn't have as much cherry flavor as I was expecting, but I also didn't get any complaints. My brother and dad liked the fact that the cherry flavor wasn't overpowering, and that the dessert tasted very light as a whole. There were requests for vanilla ice cream, which I regrettably didn't have, but if I make a cobbler again I'll be sure to stock up.

Recipe: Baking: From My Home to Yours, Dorie Greenspan, pp. 416-417

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Raspberry Cream Puff Ring

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was a peppermint cream puff ring. I wasn't really in the mood for mint, and still had raspberry jam to use up, so I changed it to a raspberry cream puff ring. The change was simple enough - instead of using mint and letting it steep, fold about 9 tablespoons of raspberry jam into the whipped cream.

This was my first time making any sort of cream puff. I was pretty excited when I got to go to the store and buy a piping bag and tips (I know, I'm weird...these things excite me). I also picked up a few other goodies I'd been missing out on - a Y-peeler, a french rolling pin, some tea towels so I can try to make my own sourdough (that'll be interesting).

When making this cream puff dough, the taste and smell reminded me of Cream of Wheat I ate when I was little. Odd how you can get nostalgic smells/tastes like that. The dough ended up nice and silky after adding the eggs.

At this point, I threw it into my new (washed) piping bag and realized that my tip was much too small. Dorie calls for a 3/4-inch diameter tip, the biggest one I had gotten was less than 1/4-inch. Nevertheless, I decided to move on and make some thicker rings, and layer three rings on the bottom with two on top.

The leftover dough got thrown into a couple weird-looking blobs. Remember, my first time with a piping bag, first time with cream puffs, yadda yadda. I pulled these blobs out of the oven about 10 minutes before the larger ring, that way they wouldn't get burnt. The ring didn't rise as expected...instead of moving up, it just moved out to the sides. This made it a lot thicker and shorter than what I was hoping for.

Piping the filling really proved how new I was to the whole thing. I put a syringe-looking tip onto the bag and tried to pump filling into the puff blobs I had previously made, but nothing came out. I eventually took the tip off and found it clogged with a bit of raspberry. I removed that tip and attached the rosette tip. That was sure a lot better, but it too got clogged with raspberries about a dozen time through the process of topping the cut cream puff ring. Each time, I had to remove the tip, take out the raspberry, then put it back in. At least now I know better, and will be sure to strain things before throwing them into a mix destined for piping.

I ended up doubling the chocolate glaze recipe, because the puff was so much thicker than expected. When it came to cutting, I got out a nice serrated knife and tried to keep everything neat, but that just wasn't happening. The puff kept moving all over the place messing up my rosettes, so I began to push down harder. The puff started acting up and squirting out cream...I'm not going to say who started yelling at whom, but names were called, feelings were hurt, and I ended up just hacking at it with a chef knife. The end product was a bit more...squished than what it could have been, but the taste is dead on.

Recipe: Baking: From My Home to Yours, Dorie Greenspan, pp. 290-292

Friday, June 13, 2008

Braised Involtino

I wasn't quite sure what to call this dish, but whatever its name, it is definitely a roulade. I still have a lot of that tomato sauce to use up, and have made this recipe in the past for friends with great success.

The reason for the confusion in the name - in Italian American cooking, a braciola is essentially what I've made. However, in Italian cuisine, a braciola is just a thin piece of meat fried in its own juices with a bit of olive oil. On the other hand, in Italian cooking, involtini pretty much look like what I've made, but they are normally pan-fried, not braised. That's why I decided to mix and match, then settled on calling this a braised involtino.

It's pretty easy to put together, and can be impressive when served showing the spiral. I ended up serving this with some leftover pasta and a simple salad.

1 1/2 lb. flank steak
2 large eggs
bread crumbs (varying amount)
parmesan (varying amount)
1 handful basil
1/2 onion, sliced
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
tomato sauce

Flatten the flank steak with a mallet. To help get it flat, place on top of a piece of saran wrap, spray lightly with water, then top with another piece of saran wrap before starting to whack at it. This step, along with making your strokes go into outward angles instead of coming straight down, will help spread the meat evenly (the saran wrap decreases friction for your angled hits). Take your time so the meat flattens evenly - you don't want any holes in the meat. Optimally, you can get the meat to an even 1/4-inch thickness.

Mix the eggs together, then slowly add bread crumbs until it reaches about the same consistency as cookie dough. Spread this layer onto the meat, leaving a small gap at the top so the final roll can close completely. Grate the parmesan, then sprinkle on top - as much or as little as you want. Follow this with a layer of fresh basil, then onions and garlic.

Roll as tightly as you can, then tie up with some butcher's twine, being sure that both ends are tightly sealed. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask the butcher for some twine, and I never got around to buying any, so I just rolled it up and let it be. If you have it all wrapped up and tied, you can sear the meat to add some flavor.

I cut the meat in half so I could fit it into a small baking dish, but if you can, try to avoid this - it's always better to leave it whole until the end.

Place into a baking dish, then cover liberally with tomato sauce until the dish is almost full. Top with a tented piece of foil. Bake at 350ºF and braise until done inside. You can leave the involtino in for extra time without much damage, but continue to spoon tomato sauce on top so the meat doesn't dry out. I have no clue when mine was complete (my probe thermometer died on me), but I baked it for approximately 2 hours, spooning sauce on top about every 10 minutes.

When the meat is done, remove it from the sauce, then use this sauce in the pasta being served alongside it. Let the meat sit for 30 minutes before cutting it into thin slices. If you feel it needs extra sauce served with it, spoon the sauce on the bottom of the plate and then place the spirals on top - you don't want to cover the spirals with sauce, or it just looks like any other cut of meat.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Brown Sugar-Pecan Shortbread Cookies

While continuing to play catchup with the Tuesdays with Dorie group, I felt like making some shortbread today - conveniently, it's the first recipe the group did.

The pecan and brown sugar flavors were great in this recipe, and it was all very easy to put together with Dorie's instructions on shortbreads. I especially liked her hint to roll out the dough while in a one-gallon ziplock bag. Makes sure that all of the pieces come out square, and prevents a large mess, plus I was able to "roll" it with my fingers while watching the Lakers game.

I didn't have too much patience to wait 2 hours before baking it, plus it was getting fairly late, so after waiting an hour of the dough being in the fridge, I threw it in the freezer to harden pretty fast. 10 minutes later, I cut the pieces and pierced the dough with a fork before throwing it on some parchment paper and baking. They puffed up only slightly in size, and darked a little faster than Dorie warns, but still came out lovely. The whole house smelled pleasantly like sugar and butter. After cooling, I bit into one and found it to be nice and crumbly, but not at all dry.

Recipe: Baking: From My Home to Yours, Dorie Greenspan, pp. 126-127

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

La Palette's (Raspberry) Tart

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was inspired from a Parisian café, La Palette. It is a simple tart, using jam and fruit as the filling. Dorie's recipe calls for strawberry jam and fresh strawberries, but I decided to go with a twist on this tart.

I've been enjoying the taste of raspberries lately, and saw a post recently on Elle's blog mentioning the pairing of raspberries with lime. I decided to indulge in her recent obsession and dove into this tart with the thought of mixing raspberry and lime. I thought twice about it while picking up the fruit - this is a lot of raspberries, and it's going to be paired with raspberry jam, then followed up by lime flavor. Won't that be too tart? Then I reminded myself that a TART was the point of this recipe (my first time making one - shame on my self-doubt).

Added to Dorie's Sweet Tart Dough was the zest of two small limes, plus the juice of half of one of those limes. It made the dough a bit more moist than I was expecting, but it worked out fine in the end. After mixing it all together, the dough was lightly fragrant with lime. As I usually do with limes and lemons, the leftover pieces were thrown into the sink garbage disposal. It makes the kitchen smell great for a few hours, and it's much more fun than just tossing them in the garbage.

The dough was pressed in to a 9-inch tart pan and wrapped tightly, then stored in the freezer overnight. After bringing it to my brother's house, where family was meeting up, I stored it again in the freezer until it was about time for some dessert. After a quick trip in the oven, the tart shell was ready (no cracks, so the extra dough Dorie suggested be set aside wasn't used). Scooped on a generous portion of Trader Joe's raspberry jam (which turns out is my sister-in-law's favorite) and piled on the rinsed and dried raspberries. I didn't add any sugar to them, but I did serve alongside some freshly whipped cream that my brother whipped up (add a small amount of sugar and vanilla to the cream - it's simple but great).

I cut the tart into 8 slices (Dorie calls for 6, but we had extra dessert that my mom brought, and were all feeling a bit full at that point from a nice dinner) and served with the aforementioned whipped cream. The consensus across the board was that this tart was great. The lime background in the shell definitely added depth to the raspberry flavor, something I wasn't quite expecting. I would definitely make this again (and plan on it) without changing a single thing. Of course, with my newly found appreciation for tarts, I'll probably play around with various recipes - and fruits, depending on the season - but this raspberry and lime tart will always be something to fall back on if I have a need to impress.

Recipe: Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan, p. 374

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Rustic Pasta

After making that last batch of tomato sauce, I figured it was about time I tried making some noodle pasta. Since I don't have a pasta cutter, I just did it by hand and called it rustic - why not? I ended up with pleasantly thick noodles. The idea was inspired by the Sugarlaws blog, though I used all-purpose flour instead of wheat, because the only wheat flour I had on hand was bread flour.

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 large pinch, salt
2 large eggs

Mound the flour and salt and dig a small hole in the middle of it. Add the two eggs.

Mix this together by hand, and you will end up with a very crumbly dough. Add water one tablespoon at a time and knead until the dough comes together nicely. If the dough becomes sticky (mine did after 5 tablespoons of water), just add more flour. Once the dough is finished, roll out as thin as possible (I maxed out my largest cutting board, so they didn't end up too thin), and dust the top with flour. Starting from one end, roll the dough into a jelly roll shape, then slice to desired pasta thickness.

Have a bit of flour on the side, and unroll each noodle. Keep your fingers powdered with flour so the noodles become lightly coated, that way they are less likely to stick to one another. Get a big pot of salted water boiling and add the pasta. Mine was complete after 5 minutes, but cooking time will vary on thickness of the noodles. They are done when all the noodles are floating at the surface of the water.

After draining the pasta, I put it back in the pot and added some of the previously made tomato sauce. I stirred it around a bit to coat all the pieces, then served. It looks like it should be enough for about 3 servings. The noodles ended up pleasantly tender. When I make more pasta in the future, I will likely try to add some herbs or spices just to change things up, and I will probably roll out only half the recipe at a time so I can get thinner noodles.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Basic Tomato Sauce

So after my roommate pointed out to me that my pizza was missing tomato sauce, I decided to make one of my big batches and store it for later. I tend to use this sauce for various purposes - braising a nice roulade, as pizza sauce, or simply pasta sauce. I'm sure there's much more to do with this, but that'll come in another post.

Ingredients are simple:
2 large cans, tomato sauce
1 small can, tomato paste
2 medium white onions, chopped
1 head of garlic, minced
1 handful fresh basil, chopped roughly
1/2 bottle merlot
I also added 3 medium tomatoes because I had them lying around, and pictured is a handful of assorted greens, but those ended up getting cut before the end of this. They'll come up in a later post.

Throw the onions in a large pot with a small amount of olive oil. Over medium heat, sweat them until tender. Add garlic and continue heating for another 2 minutes before adding fresh tomatoes and basil.

Add the tomato sauce and paste, then stir well to bring everything together. Bring to a simmer and add merlot to taste. If you don't particularly like merlot, you could try adding a bit of vodka, or try another wine. The idea is to have some sort of alcohol in there to pull out the alcohol-soluble flavors hiding in the tomatoes. I use about half a bottle, and it gives the sauce good flavor and consistency.

Also note, in many recipes the quality of wine tends to affect the overall quality of the end product. However, in this case, the merlot is definitely a background player. Go ahead and use something cheap! If this were to be a wine-based sauce, then things would definitely be different.

Keep it simmering for 2-3 hours, so the flavors have plenty of time to meld. Yield is approximately four 20-oz mason jars (I overfilled mine a bit). Should keep well in the refrigerator for a while, but I usually end up using it all within a couple weeks.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Tuscana Soup

I had a request from a friend several weeks ago that, the next time she come over for dinner, I'd make her some Tuscana Soup inspired from the Olive Garden. Having never had it myself, I didn't have too much to work from, but I was able to easily find out what goes into it by surfing a bit online.

After whipping it together, my friend was shocked - she said I'd have no need to go to the Olive Garden to try it, since I perfected it in one go. It's a mildly spicy dish, with lots of flavor in every slurpy bite. It probably took about an hour total to throw it all together, including another pizza we made to go with the soup (see last post).

Very simple overall, pretty damn cheap, and definitely going to be something I make again in the near future.

1/4 large white onion, diced
2 slices prosciutto, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
3 t. chicken bullion powder
1 quart, water
5 small red potatoes, cubed (1 cm)
1 c. mixed small greens (Trader Joe's package)
3 spicy Italian sausage links (about 1 1/2 c. total)
2/3 c. heavy cream

Heat sausage over medium heat until cooked all the way through. In the meantime, place onions and prosciutto with a bit of olive oil (about 1T) in a 4-quart or larger pot, cook over medium-high heat until onions are nearly translucent. Add garlic and heat for another minute before pouring in the water and adding the boullion powder. Add the potatoes, then simmer for 15 minutes. Chop the greens up into medium pieces (approximately 1 cm) and cut sausage links along a bias for presentation (or, if you prefer, you could ground them up so they're more homogenous in the soup). Throw the greens and sausage into the soup, along with the cream, and simmer for 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 5 bowl-fulls, but that was only enough for 2 of us because it was so delicious! We barely even bothered with the pizza, and all the attention was on the wonderful soup. It could have used more greens, and I'd probably add another cup-full in there next time, but aside from that I wouldn't change a thing about this.