Sunday, April 26, 2009

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

The first time I visited Kitchen Arts and Letters, I had no idea what I wanted. There were professional cookbooks, vintage cookbooks, international cookbooks, baking books, preserving books- essentially any title a home cook would want.

Feeling lost, I asked an employee to recommend a simple-but-really-good cookbook for everyday use. He handed me Cucina Fresca by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman and started raving about a marinated wild rice salad. I flipped through the first few chapters and decided it was perfect.

Since then, i've seen the book repeatedly mentioned in print and on the web. It's quickly become one of my favorites. Most of the recipes feature bold, fresh flavors from ingredients like herbs, meats, oils/extracts, and citrus, and techniques like marinating and grilling. I make the herb-stuffed eggplant and this roasted red pepper soup on a fairly regular basis.

Since this soup is so simple, the quality of ingredients used will significantly impact the taste. Homemade chicken stock would taste best, but i've had good results using Swanson and Kitchen Basics brands. I use canned San Marzano tomatoes. While the original recipe says to seed whole canned tomatoes, I think diced tomatoes would taste just as good (and save some time).

I like eating this soup warm, garnished with some grated parmesan and slivered basil.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup
adapted from La Place and Kleiman's Cucina Fresca

4 meaty red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, and seeded
2 cups imported italian canned tomatoes, seeded and drained
3 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
3 cups defatted chicken stck
salt and freshly ground black pepper
basil leaves for garnish
paper thin lemon slices, for garnish

Puree three of the peppers and all of the tomatoes in a food processor or blender until finely textured but not completely smooth. Cut the remaining pepper into thin julienne strips and set aside.

Gently heat the olive oil and garlic. When the garlic releases its fragrance, after about 2 minutes, stir in the pureed pepper and tomato mixture. Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Let the soup cool, then cover and chill in the refrigerator. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls. Tear basil leaves into pieces and scatter over soup. Float a lemon slice in each bowl.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Notes from my Kitchen.

Key Lime Tart

I re-made this recipe for a dinner party in March. It's one of my favorite citrus desserts, and one of many recipes I find comforting. I love its tart, bright flavor and smooth consistency.

Savory Bread Pudding

I also remade this savory breakfast bread pudding, with no spinach and extra onions. I made a half-batch, and the reheated leftovers made good breakfasts.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Regarding the Photos.

All entries from Feb 2007 to Nov 16, 2007 have lost their photographs.

This is because my old image host (ie college) deleted my account. I'll be working on moving the photos to flickr in the near future.

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Rhubarb Upside-down Cake

Rhubarb Upside-down Cake

I've probably said this before, but I am a sucker for pretty cookbooks. I like clear instructions, glossy photographs, and appetizing recipes with minimal anecdotal padding.

There is, however, a point when cookbooks make me suspicious. I question how good the recipes are when every other page is a closeup of carrots covered in dirt or bodiless hands shelling peas, picking berries, or slicing potatoes. Many new cookbooks tout the author's credentials so frequently that I feel wary when the only author information is in a teeny paragraph on the last page.

The lure of visual appeal and celebrity makes it easy to overlook excellent titles. I have to remind myself that the modern cookbook is a luxury. We're lucky to have step-by-step instructions, let alone any photographs. I've read recipes from the 1800s that assume you know how to skin and bone a lamb. In many cases, I think the only way to know a cookbook is to start cooking from it. Repeatedly.

I almost returned Sarah Raven's In Season to the library. The recipes looked too simple. They're column-length, like the recipes in Breakfast, Lunch, Tea: The Many Little Meals of Rose Bakery (I wonder if both books were designed by the same person).

I tried the "Rhubarb upside-down cake" on a whim, and was pleasantly surprised when the cake turned out perfectly. If other recipes turn out this well, I might buy the book. The content is well balanced and conveniently organized by season and ingredient.

I halved this recipe and baked it in a 6-inch souffle dish. Instead of halving 3 eggs, I used one extremely large fresh egg. I prefer to bake upsidedown cakes in pans lined with parchment, as the fruit gets less mangled on unmolding. I highly recommend this cake. The rhubarb came out perfectly cooked and just sweet enough to mellow the tartness. The cake batter is dense- similar to a cobbler topping.

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake
adapted from Sarah Raven's In Season

1 pound rhubarb
1/2 cup soft brown sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp milk
sliced almonds, toasted
confectioners' sugar, for dusting
Creme fraiche and demerara or raw sugar, to serve

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Cut the rhubarb at an angle into 2-inch slices. Melt the brown sugar and butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Add the orange zest and remove from the heat. Cover the base of the pan with the rhubarb. (Alternately, you can melt the butter/sugar in a pot and pour the mixture into a parchment lined cake pan).

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until combined. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt, and fold into the mixture. Add the milk and mix well. Spread the batter over the rhubarb with a spatula.

Bake for 30 minutes, until the cake is firm to the touch. Leave to cool for about 20 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate.

Sprinkle with the toasted almonds and dust with confectioners' sugar. Serve warm with creme fraiche or whipped cream. To reheat, put on a large baking sheet, sprinkle with the demerara sugar, and bake for 15-20 minutes at 350F.