Soup Nights (and Days!)

January 16th, 2017

Betty Rosbottom spent her formative years in areas known for their food. In her childhood home of Memphis, Tenn., she enjoyed that city’s signature barbecue. She attended college in New Orleans, where she learned to love Cajun and Creole dishes. She spent her junior year at the Sorbonne savoring French cuisine.

Nevertheless, she spent no time in the kitchen herself until she married. “I couldn’t cook a thing during any of my upbringing,” Betty told me in a recent telephone interview. “I was just an appreciator.”

Her husband gave her a copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking as a wedding present. “It was my first learning experience about food,” recalled Betty. “I was so naïve I thought ALL recipes were five pages long.”

Once she started cooking, she never stopped. She founded a cooking school in Columbus, Ohio, in the late 1970s and learned from guest teachers like gourmet legend Jacques Pepin and “queen of cake” Maida Heatter. Eventually, she attended the Parisian cooking school La Varenne.

Betty has written a syndicated food column, hosted a PBS food show, taught cooking in many venues, and written 11 cookbooks. The most recent of those books is Soup Nights, published just in time for National Soup Month (January) by Rizzoli.

I asked Betty about her earliest happy recollection of soup. Ironically, she told me, her first beloved soup—French Onion Soup Gratiné—graces the front cover of “Soup Nights.” She fell in love with this classic French favorite at les Halles, Paris’s big central market, during her junior year abroad. Les Halles has since closed; I am lucky enough to have visited the market and tasted that ambrosial soup as a small child.

Betty loves soup in general as well as in particular, however. “For me [soup is] just a sense of well being,” she explained. “Every culture has soups. They’re comforting. They can be hot. They can be cold. In the winter they warm you up, and in the summer they cool you down.”

They can also be very forgiving,” she added, noting that a thin soup can be thickened or a thick one thinned. “If you put a little too much salt in a soup, you can put in a raw potato.”

Soups are handy for anyone looking for a simple, inexpensive way to entertain, she noted. “Not only can you make soup in advance and it’s helpful for you as a host or a hostess, but it improves with time.”

I asked Betty to walk me through the process of creating one of the recipes in Soup Nights. She explained the thinking behind her Winter Tomato & Garlic Soup, which uses ingredients she tends to have in her cupboard—canned tomatoes, chicken stock, onion, garlic.

“I love tomato soup,” she enthused. “As a child I the only tomato soup I ever had was the one that came in the red-and-white Campbell’s can. It was a revelation to me that you can make tomato soup.

“I always like to give a kind of citrus taste to tomato soup. This one has orange zest. It lightens the soup a little bit.”

Eager to help readers figure out what to serve with their soup (her book features sandwiches, salads, and desserts as well as straight soups), Betty Rosbottom suggests pairing the tomato soup with Gorgonzola bruschette.

“When we have a nor’easter coming, this soup will serve a lot … and it gets better when you make it ahead of time.”

Betty Rosbottom wasn’t at liberty to tell me what her next project will be, but she predicted that it will be “very popular.” She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, but she is spending January in her favorite city in the world, Paris, doing culinary research.

In fact, when we spoke she was in her Paris apartment. The long distance connection made me happy if just a little jealous. During our conversation I could almost smell the onion soup!

Courtesy of Betty Rosbottom

“Midnight in Paris” Onion Soup Gratiné

© Soup Nights by Betty Rosbottom, Rizzoli New York, 2016. Used with permission.

Ingredients:

for the soup:

2 quarts beef stock
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 pounds yellow onions, sliced 1/4-inch thick, to yield 10 cups
kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar, plus more if needed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dry white wine
freshly ground black pepper

for the croutons:

18 baguette slices, cut about 3/8-inch thick
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed
1 12-ounce piece good quality aged Gruyère grated to yield 1-1/2 cups and the remainder cut into slivers (1/4-inch by 1-inch long) to yield 1/2 cup

Instructions:

Set the stock in a pot over very low heat; then cover it. Keep the stock warm at a very low simmer while you prepare the soup.

In a 5-quart heavy pot (with a lid) over medium-low heat, heat the butter and oil. When hot, add the onions. Cover and cook, stirring frequently, 15 minutes.

Remove the lid, and raise the heat to medium. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt, the sugar, and the flour. Cook, stirring constantly, scraping the bottom of the pan so that the flour does not burn, until the onions are rich golden (like the color of light brown sugar), 35 to 40 minutes or more.

(While you are cooking the onions, the flour will start to darken too and the onions will cook down considerably. That’s okay.)

When the onions are done, add the simmering stock and 1/2 cup of the wine. Season the soup with salt and pepper, and a pinch or two of extra sugar if desired. Simmer, partially covered with the lid set ajar, 40 minutes more.

With a large spoon, skim off any foam that forms. Add the remaining 1/4 cup wine and season the soup again with salt and pepper. (Soup can be prepared three days ahead. Cook to this stage, then cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat.)

While the soup is simmering, prepare the baguette slices and the cheese topping. Arrange a rack at center position of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Brush the baguette slices generously on both sides with olive oil and arrange on a rimmed baking sheet.

Bake until the slices are crisp, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Remove and cool. (The baguette slices can be prepared two days ahead; store in an airtight container at room temperature.) Retain oven temperature.

Arrange 6 ovenproof soup bowls or ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet and fill them 3/4 full with the hot soup.

Divide the slivered cheese among the bowls. Float 2 to 3 baguette slices on top of each serving, and sprinkle generously with some grated cheese. Depending on the size of your bowls or ramekins, you may have some soup, cheese, or croutons left over.

Bake the soups until the cheese has melted and is lightly browned, 15 minutes. Watch constantly. If desired, run under a hot broiler to brown more, 1 to 2 minutes. Serves 6.

Winter Tomato & Garlic Soup with Creamy Gorgonzola Bruschette

© Soup Nights by Betty Rosbottom, Rizzoli New York, 2016. Used with permission.

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 cups chopped onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes, drained well
3-1/2 cups chicken broth or stock, plus more if needed
1 tablespoon dried basil
a scant 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more if needed
kosher salt

a scant 1/2 TSP red pepper flakes, plus more if needed
kosher salt
2 small pinches sugar
3/4 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano
1 tablespoon grated orange zest

Instructions:

In a heavy, 4-quart saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until hot. Add the onions and stir until they start to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for 1 minute more. Add tomatoes, 3-1/2 cups broth, basil, red pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and sugar. Stir well to combine and bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and continue to simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

Purée the soup in batches in a food processor, blender, or food mill, then return the soup to the pot. (Or use an immersion blender to purée the soup in the pot.) The mixture will be somewhat chunky. Stir in the half-and-half, Parmesan cheese, and orange zest and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the soup is heated through, 3 to 4 minutes. If the soup is too thick, thin it with 1/2 cup extra broth. Season the soup with salt if needed and, if you’d like more heat, add a pinch of red pepper flakes. (Soup can be prepared two days ahead. Cook to this stage, then cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat, stirring often, over medium heat.)

Ladle the soup into bowls. Serve with the Gorgonzola Bruschette alongside or, if you prefer, float one on top of each serving. Serves 6.

Gorgonzola-Rosemary Bruschette

Ingredients:

12 baguette slices, cut 3/8-inch thick
olive oil for brushing
1 8-ounce piece creamy Gorgonzola, such as Gorgonzola Dolce, softened slightly
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

Instructions:

Arrange a rack at center position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Have a foil-lined baking sheet ready.

Brush both sides of the baguette slices generously with olive oil and place on the baking sheet. Bake slices until golden and just crisp, 3 to 4 minutes per side. (Slices can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Keep at room temperature.)

Spread each slice with Gorgonzola; then return to the oven until cheese has melted, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle each slice with chopped rosemary.

© Harry Zernike. Used with permission.

Chili Peanuts

January 1st, 2017

bonne-anneweb

Happy New Year!

The Twelve Days of Christmas haven’t yet expired, and Kwanzaa is still with us. So here’s a savory edible gift to bring to friends during this festive season. These peanuts are just a little spicy and quite addictive.

I made them recently on Mass Appeal along with my beloved chocolate bark. Both food offerings were popular with Seth Stutman, Lauren Zenzie, and the gang at the studio.

And of course I gave them to my brother for Hanukkah—or maybe Christmas. (We celebrate both, and the presents are flexible.) They went well with the cocktail ingredients that were his primary present.

I wish you all a joyful and productive 2017….

The Peanuts

Ingredients:

a splash of canola or peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (go to 1-1/2 or 2 if you like spice)
3/4 teaspoon chili powder or Creole seasoning, plus more if needed at the end
1 teaspoon salt (less if using the Creole seasoning as it includes salt)
1 pound shelled unsalted peanuts (about 3 cups)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Heat a large (preferably cast-iron) ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Pour the oil on top, and let it heat for a minute or two. Add the garlic, spices, and salt, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Stir in the peanuts and remove the pan from the heat. Transfer it to the oven and bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Remove the peanuts from the oven and spread them to cool on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels. Taste one. They won’t be crunchy yet; that will happen as they cool. If they need more salt or seasoning, sprinkle it on top of them so they will absorb it as they cool.

When the peanuts are cool, transfer them to an airtight container. Makes about 3 cups.

And now the video! I was away from home when this segment ran so I didn’t have the video to upload and embed. But it can be viewed on the Mass Appeal website. If you stick around after the peanuts, you’ll see us making the bark.

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Laurie Neely’s Holiday Cookies

December 21st, 2016
Laurie Neely in Her Kitchen (Courtesy of Laurie's husband Ray)

Laurie Neely in Her Kitchen (Courtesy of Laurie’s husband Ray)

Laurie Neely of Orange, Massachusetts, has been baking holiday cookies since the day after Thanksgiving. By Christmas Day, she will have turned out hundreds. “There will generally be in excess of a dozen kinds [of cookies] and many dozens of each,” she told me in a recent interview.

An artist, writer, and animal lover, Laurie started baking seriously in the 1960s as a stay-at-home mother. The Christmas-cookie tradition began with a family recipe from her first husband, who is still a good friend.

Laurie has added recipes from friends, relatives, newspapers, and the internet to her repertoire over the years, adapting them to her taste.

Many of these holiday treats—including her pfeffernüsse cookies and the German molded cookies called springerle—need to age in order to achieve optimal flavor and consistency. Her gingersnaps take about three weeks to mature.

Laurie carved her own springerle molds years ago and sees cookie baking as deeply creative. “I was a potter for some time,” she explained, “and for me baking and pottery are just parts of the same…. I think the idea of creating art with your hands that people then eat is perfect.”

I asked where all the cookies go. Laurie replied that she mails batches to relatives around the country. After that, the cookies go to “family and friends and neighbors and anybody who leaves their car window down.”

“And my husband Ray is, like, ‘Don’t give them all away!’” she added.

Her family celebrates the season on Christmas Eve with a festive brunch that includes many, many cookies, she said. Her adult son is Jewish so this year the feast will include latkes for Hanukkah; that holiday begins on Christmas Eve.

When we spoke Laurie was baking a new-to-her recipe, wine cookies flavored with anise. The recipe came from her friend Gail and before that from Gail’s mother Mary and grandmother Emilia.

“Mary was an outstanding cook, and I am honored to use not only many of her recipes, but her KitchenAid mixer and quite a few other kitchen items as well,” said Laurie.

“This recipe is one I photographed from a well used card after Mary passed and we were sorting out and sharing her recipe file among family members.”

The photograph of the recipe resides in a special plastic bag Laurie treasures. Each year after Thanksgiving she reaches into the bag for the tattered, food-stained recipes that constitute her evolving Christmas-cookie tradition.

“I really do need to sit down—not at this time of year—and put [the recipes] in a database so when these scraps of paper finally die I have them,” she confessed. “But….”

Her advice to novice bakers is to buy quality ingredients; to use good pans (she relies on silicone mats for her cookie baking and favors insulated cookie sheets); and above all to relax, have fun, and be flexible with recipes.

“You need to stay with the basics. Your ratios of flour, shortening, and liquid are going to be crucial. But then you sort of play. The creativity makes for some pretty good cookies,” she suggested.

Laurie Neely loves the Christmas season and doesn’t plan to stop baking anytime soon.

“Advent has many associations for people,” she mused. “In some homes there are calendars with little paper doors to open heralding the coming Christmas, and in our churches there are wreaths to mark the Sundays as they pass. But in my house Advent has a scent: it smells like cookies.”

Here are two cookie recipes from Laurie’s kitchen. I don’t have anise seeds in the house (and I’d have to order them specially) so I’m holding off on the wine cookies until next Christmas. The gingersnaps are aging in a tin as I write, however.

I got a late start on my baking so they won’t be ready to eat in time for Christmas—but a cookie might taste pretty good in the new year!

Happy/merry to all….

sbuse

Mama’s Cookies with White Wine

Laurie Neely decided, “I may add a drop of anise oil or extract in the next batch [of these cookies]….They are light, mildly anise flavored, sweet, and just a little biscuity, leading me to think they will age well.

“So many of the Italian cookies improve when they age and harden and become great coffee accompaniments.”

Ingredients:

3/4 cup sugar
1 heaping tablespoon shortening (Laurie used Earth Balance brand)
1 teaspoon anise seeds
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup semi-sweet white wine (Laurie used a Riesling)
3-1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
equal portions of cinnamon and sugar as needed, combined

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl combine the sugar and the shortening. Stir in the anise seeds, the oil, and the wine. In a separate bowl combine the flour, the baking powder, and the salt. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture a little at a time until the combination achieves the consistency of not-too-firm pie-crust dough.

Shape the cookies by forming heaping tablespoons of the dough into logs in the palm of your (mostly closed) hand. Dip the tops of the cookies in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, and place the logs on greased cookie sheets.

Bake the cookies until they are a deep golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Makes about 3-1/2 dozen cookies.

Laurie took this photo of some wine cookies cooling.

Laurie took this photo of some wine cookies cooling.

Laurie Neely’s Gingersnaps

Laurie has adapted this recipe over the years, adding more and more ginger to achieve just the right flavor.

Ingredients:

2-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 heaping tablespoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon white pepper (generous)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup molasses

Instructions:

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. In a large saucepan, melt the butter in the molasses. Bring this mixture to a boil; then let it cool. Stir in the dry ingredients.

Chill the resulting dough for a couple of hours; then preheat the oven to 375 degrees and roll the dough out on a floured board until it is 1/8-inch thick. Cut out shapes with a floured biscuit cutter or floured seasonal cookie cutters.

Bake the cookies for 8 minutes. The yield depends on the shapes you use to cut them out; Laurie Neely usually gets 3 to 4 dozen cookies from this recipe. Store the cookies in a tin for at least three weeks before serving them.

Gingersnaps at our house, waiting to mature. Can you tell that I'm not the world's greatest cookie cutter?

Gingersnaps at our house, waiting to mature. Can you tell that I’m not the world’s greatest cookie cutter?

Fruitcake for Those Who Don’t Like It

December 1st, 2016

tinky-and-jan-laughweb

Earlier this week my sister-in-law Leigh and I made fruitcake. We weren’t precisely enjoying the fruitcake weather of Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory.” (I wrote at length about that story when I shared the recipe for my late mother’s signature fruitcake.) The air was warm and humid rather than cool and crisp.

Nevertheless, we wanted to get a head start on our holiday baking. Fruitcake requires advance preparation so if one wants to have it for Christmas one should start working on it in late November.

Of course we made my mother’s fruitcake—and talked about her. The image at the top of this blog (and the top of this post) shows Taffy and me several years back working on fruitcake. She loved the annual tradition of preparing it, and continuing that tradition lets Leigh and me honor her and remember her in a fun, constructive way.

We also made the fruitcake recipe below. This wasn’t Taffy’s favorite fruitcake, but it is most definitely mine. Long ago Taffy copied it from a newspaper. It was originally NOT aged with additional Grand Marnier; that was our family’s addition. The cake can be eaten right after baking, but like many of us it gets better with age and booze.

This is fruitcake for non-fruitcake lovers. It has no sticky weird fruits, just golden raisins and pecans. And it emerges from the oven with a lovely golden color. The cake is VERY rich, as you’ll see in the recipe. Our family calls it “Delicious Death” in tribute to a cake made in Agatha Christie’s novel A Murder Is Announced.

In this mystery, set shortly after World War II, Delicious Death is a household favorite, prepared by the strange but talented cook who works at the scene of the first murder. Its abundance of butter and eggs are particularly welcome after the rationing the English have endured during and after the war.

If you find this cake too big and too rich, break it up. As you can see from the picture below (taken while the cakes were cooling), Leigh and I made half a recipe. This yielded four small cakes and one small loaf—perfect for gift giving. They took about 1-3/4 hours to bake.

Happy holiday baking from our home to yours!

cooling-cakeseb

Delicious Death

Ingredients:

1 pound golden raisins
1 pound pecans, chopped
3 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound butter (4 sticks) at room temperature
2 cups sugar
6 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon warm water
1/4 cup Grand Marnier or Cointreau, plus additional liqueur as needed

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Butter and flour the inside of a 10-inch, 12-cup tube pan or bundt pan (or butter and flour a number of smaller pans, and adjust your cooking time accordingly).

In a large bowl, combine the raisins and the pecans. Sprinkle the flour and salt over them, and toss the mixture with your hands until blended. Set aside.

Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Gradually beat in the sugar. Cream the mixture well; then add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating constantly. Blend the baking soda and the warm water, and beat them into the batter. Beat in the Grand Marnier. Pour this batter over the nut mixture, and blend it in with your hands (which will smell WONDERFUL from the Grand Marnier!).

After thoroughly washing your beater and bowl, beat the egg whites until they are stiff, and fold them into the rest of the batter with your hands. Continue folding until you can no longer see the whites.

Spoon and scrape the mixture into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Bake for 2 to 2-1/4 hours, or until the cake is puffed above the pan and nicely browned on top. (If the cake starts to brown on top too soon, cover it with aluminum foil.) Remove the cake from the pan after about 15 minutes. Tapping the bottom of the cake pan with a heavy knife will help loosen it.

When the cake has cooled, wrap it in cheesecloth, and sprinkle Grand Marnier on it to moisten it. Wrap it in foil, place it in a plastic storage bag, and hide it until you wish to use it—ideally for about 10 days. (It will keep longer, but you may have to re-douse it and refrigerate it after a month or so.) Makes 1 10-inch cake.

murder1web

Cranberry Shrub

November 7th, 2016

shrubmadeupweb

November greetings! Naturally, I’m already thinking about Thanksgiving.

Years ago I made what I called cranberry vinegar—basically, my usual strawberry vinegar with cranberries (I had to heat the vinegar a bit in order to get the cranberries to start blending with it). It was fabulous in salad dressings, and a friend loved mixing it with soda water as a drink.

Unfortunately, it gelled within a day or two; the pectin in the cranberries just couldn’t restrain itself.

So—here’s another version, from the book Colonial Spirits by Steven Grasse (2016, Abrams Books, recipe used with permission).

I have to admit that mine was a LITTLE tastier; both the cranberry and the sugar flavors came across more strongly.

But this one won’t gel up on you! It will beautify your Thanksgiving table and give your guests a refreshing beverage. I made it on my final fall appearance on Mass Appeal last week, along with my favorite key-lime pie, adding a little cranberry sauce to make the pie more seasonal.more-of-zee-pieweb

The Shrub

Ingredients:

3 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups water

Instructions:

Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan, and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until the berries pop and become tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, and cool slightly. Working in batches, puree the cranberry mixture in a food processor. Don’t over-process the mixture.

Transfer the mixture to a cheesecloth-lined sieve and strain, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids.

Store the shrub in a airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Makes about 1 quart.

To make a refreshing beverage, pour 2 ounces of shrub into a tall glass with ice. Top with 1 cup soda water, and stir to combine.

And now the videos:

Key-Lime Pie

Cranberry Shrub