Thursday, December 25, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Pappa Al Pomidoro

I had never heard of Pappa Al Pomidoro but I always enjoy soup - especially this time of year.  My wife doesn't really like tomatoes but she is usually ok if there are not chunks of tomato so I decided to give it a shot.  I did try to chop the tomatoes a little finer than the recipe intended for my wife but I don't think it took anything away from the recipe.

I must just shop at the wrong places but this is the second recipe in a row where I have had trouble finding an ingredient.  I don't think I have ever seen a thick sliced pancetta.  I suppose a good deli probably has pancetta that has not been cut an pre-packaged.  I decided to substitute good american bacon for the pancetta.  In most recipes I like the flavor of bacon better than pancetta anyway - although it probably added a little too much fat to the soup.

I also seem to be having trouble reading recipes lately.  When I got to the part of the recipe where it said to add the salt - 1 Tablespoon of salt seemed like a lot but I added it anyway.  Well it was too much and the soup turned out a little on the salty side.  It is only now that I see in the ingredient list that I was supposed to use kosher salt.  It should be no issue using table salt in place of kosher salt but 2 tsp table salt would probably be about the same as the Tablespoon of kosher salt.  Oh well - it wasn't too bad.  I should have at least trusted my instincts and left out some of the salt until the end when I could do the seasoning to taste.

I think it was a good soup but I don't think I will be making it again.  My wifes review of the soup is "too tomatoey".  I am not really sure that is a bad thing for most people in a tomato soup but it is for her.

Have I remembered to thank my wife for my dutch ovens?  I have always wanted one but could never bring myself to plunk down $200-$300 for a single pan.  Well last year I found the Mario Batali cookware at Crate and Barrel that looked pretty nice.  Then I also saw that Martha stewart had some nice looking dutch ovens at Macys.  My wife ended up buying me both a 5.5 and 7 quart Martha Stewart Dutch oven earlier this year.  I can definitly say that they have been great.  I thought it would be something I would use a couple of times a year but I am using them all the time.  I have never used Le Cruset but I can't imagine how they would be much better than these.  They look great and so far the finish is holding up well.  I think she said she got both of them for less than $100 - can't beat that; I am sure there were coupons and sales involved.

Thanks to Natalie of Burned Bits for this recipe choice.  I'm always up for soup.

Pappa Al Pomidoro
(Source: Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, Page 68)
Serves 6

  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onion (2 onions)
  • 1 cup medium-diced carrots, unpeeled (3 carrots)
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and medium-diced (1 1/2 cups)
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 3 cups (1-inch) diced ciabatta cubes, crusts removed
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans good Italian plum tomatoes
  • 4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
For the topping
  • 3 cups (1-inch) diced ciabatta cubes
  • 2 ounces thickly sliced pancetta, chopped
  • 24 to 30 whole fresh basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil, plus more for serving
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, fennel, and garlic and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until tender. Add the ciabatta cubes and cook for 5 more minutes. Place the tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process just until coarsely chopped. Add the tomatoes to the pot along with the chicken stock, red wine, basil, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and allow to simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  3. For the topping, place the ciabatta cubes, pancetta, and basil on a sheet pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss well. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes, until all the ingredients are crisp. The basil leaves will turn dark and crisp, which is perfectly fine. Reheat the soup, if necessary, beat with a wire whisk until the bread is broken up. Stir in the Parmesan and taste for seasoning. Serve hot sprinkled with the topping and drizzled with additional olive oil.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Cookie Time - Chocolate Turtle Cookies

It is a busy time of year but I decided I wanted to make some cookies.  My wife was invited to a neighborhood cookie exchange and she also had a cookie contest at work so I decided it would be the perfect opportunity.  

I saw this recipe on the web somewhere and then got my December issue of Cooks Country and it had the same recipe.  I needed 80 cookies for the exchange so I ended up making 9-10 dozen of these.  The recipe in Cooks Country did not have the pecan halves on top but I thought they added a nice touch.

I need a lesson in reading the recipe all the way through.  Where it says one egg separated plus one white I missed the separated part and threw the entire egg plus the whites into the cookie so my five batches of cookies had 10 egg whites in it that were not supposed to be there.  It was late at night and I didn't have the ingredients to make another five batches so I tested it out.  I am not really sure it affected the cookies much.  I think maybe they might have spread out a little more than they were supposed to but they tasted good and still looked nice.

I didn't win the contest - I blame the judging.  The cookie exchange had another cookie almost the same with chocolate in the center instead of the caramel - oh well.  They were still good and I had fun making them.

Chocolate Turtle Cookies
Makes 2 dozen

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon slat
  • 8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, separated, plus 1 egg white
  • 2 Tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped fine
  • 14 soft caramel candies
  • 3 Tablespoons heavy cream
  • 24 pecan halves

  1. Combine flour, cocoa, and salt in bowl.  With electric mixer on medium beat butter and sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add egg yolk, milk, and vanilla and mix until Incorporated.  Reduce to low speed and add flour mixture until just combined.  Refrigerate dough until firm, at least 1 hour.
  2. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat to 350 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. Whisk egg whites in bowl until frothy.  Place pecans in another bowl.  One at a time, roll dough into 1 inch ball, dip in egg whites, then roll in pecans.  Place balls 2 inches apart on prepared sheets.  Using teaspoon measure, make indentation in center of each ball.  Bake until set, 10 to 12 minutes, switching and rotating sheets half way through baking.
  4. Meanwhile, microwave caramels and cream in bowl, stirring occasionally, until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.  Once cookies are removed from oven, gently press existing indentations with teaspoon measure .  Fill each indentation with 1/2 teaspoon caramel mixture.  Cool 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack and cool completely.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Coq Au Vin

Oh no - it is only my third or forth Barefoot Bloggers post and I have already missed a deadline. The post for Coq Au Vin was supposed to be done the 11th and it is already the 20th. I cooked this on the 12th but have not been able to pull myself together enough for the post until now. Am I the only one that is busy this time of year - I am guessing not. I have now got all my Christmas baking done and got our last Christmas purchase made today so I have a break for a couple of days. Good news is I have already completed the next recipe so I should manage that one on time.

I don't think you can really go wrong with Coq Au Vin. I have made a different version of this for Valentines dinner in the past. It has the good parts of a stew with the carrots and mushrooms and pearl onions cooked in flavorful liquid. The sauce is way better than a stew and I sop up every drop of it with my potatoes and bread. It has been a while since I made a Coq Au Vin so I can't really compare this recipe to it but I can say that this one was very good.

My wife decided that since I was making something semi-fancy that she should take the opportunity to invite someone over. I am not sure it would have been my #1 choice to invite our pastor over on the night I am making a recipe with 1/4 cup Cognac and a half bottle of red wine but that it what she did. I kept tasting it while it was cooking and let it cook until it didn't taste too strong of alcohol. The pastor was our new associate pastor who works mostly with the youth. The pastor and his wife have a daughter about the same age as our 17 month old son so it is fun seeing the two of them together.

The one comment I would make on the recipe is - where do you find these frozen onions? I have never seen frozen onions in the store. I did assume that these were supposed to be pearl onions so I got fresh pearl onions and used those instead and they turned out great. The recipe also said it served three so I threw in a few extra chicken thighs since we were having company and there was still plenty of sauce and veggies for all of the chicken.

Thanks to Bethany of this little piggy went to market... for choosing this months recipe.

Coq Au Vin
Serves 3

  • 4 ounces good bacon or pancetta, diced
  • 1 (3 to 4-pound) chicken, cut in 8ths
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 pound carrots, cut diagonally in 1-inch pieces
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1/4 cup Cognac or good brandy
  • 1/2 bottle (375 ml) good dry red wine such as Burgundy
  • 1 cup good chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 10 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 pound frozen small whole onions
  • 1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, stems removed and thickly sliced

  1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove the bacon to a plate with a slotted spoon.
  3. Meanwhile, lay the chicken out on paper towels and pat dry. Liberally sprinkle the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. When the bacon is removed, brown the chicken pieces in batches in a single layer for about 5 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Remove the chicken to the plate with the bacon and continue to brown until all the chicken is done. Set aside.
  4. Add the carrots, onions, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper to the pan and cook over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the Cognac and put the bacon, chicken, and any juices that collected on the plate into the pot. Add the wine, chicken stock, and thyme and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and place in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is just not pink. Remove from the oven and place on top of the stove.
  5. Mash 1 tablespoon of butter and the flour together and stir into the stew. Add the frozen onions. In a medium saute pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and cook the mushrooms over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until browned. Add to the stew. Bring the stew to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes. Season to taste. Serve hot.