Tag Archives: Recipe testing

Pumpkin Soup

Several years ago, I mentioned in a post that I really thought that Thanksgiving dinner (or really any great autumn menu) should start with pumpkin soup. A have a very good friend and recipe-testing buddy to thank for finding this one on line many years ago. It’s become my standby soup to make once the weather gets that cool-crisp fall feeling in the air. The benefits are that it makes quite a bit and that it freezes really well. I usually end up making maybe a couple of batches each cold weather season to keep on hand.

Winter Squash Soup with Gruyère Croutons is definitely in the keeper file. Originally, my friend and I made this with Cheddar Pumpkins that we got at our Greenmarket. A four pound-ish pumpkin will give you the eight cups of chopped vegetable needed for the recipe. This year, however, the pumpkins were either on the too big or too little side the weekend I was craving this recipe. Instead, I actually followed the directions (shock, I know) and made it with the butternut squash-acorn squash combo.

While the flavor was slightly different than that of the soup made with a Cheddar Pumpkin, it definitely mimicked a French soupe au poitron a bit more closely than a recipe made with the former. This is based upon my distant memory of having had it once a while ago when I was in France. Served in a modest portion, this dish would make an elegant (with the croutons, which I omitted here) and not-too-heavy starter. This is also a great excuse to whip out the immersion blender to avoid all the fiddling of pouring hot liquid into a regular standing blender.

I put my vote forward as I did in my post about pumpkin muffins to ban the overly-spiced, gluey pie that is usually found on tables across the land and to serve something a bit more interesting, and maybe in this case, something perhaps slightly more authentic, at the Thanksgiving table. As I’m one of the folks who will be pulling dinner together this year at my parents’ house, I might actually get my own way.

Buon appetito!

Sometimes I get so angry I have to come home and BAKE

It was one of those days at work. Actually, it’s been one of those weeks. Hey, really, who am I kidding, it’s been one of those years. I should probably be able to measure it by the number of times I’ve come home and just decided to start baking something on the spur of the moment, much like I did tonight.

The frustration has to go somewhere, and I can’t work out like I was a few months ago due to an injury. Rehab is incredibly slow, so there’s just no place for the extra energy to go. So, tonight, it went into trying out two recipes that I’d pulled from my food magazine binge this weekend.

Olive Magazine had a recipe for Fluffy Apple Muffins. I’m always on the lookout for good, simple breakfast recipes. This one ended up having nice flavor. I think that next time I’ll try pears instead of apples, as they are also in season at the moment, and because I now have a whole carton of buttermilk to use up. My only negative comment is that the parchment paper in the muffin tin seemed unnecessarily fussy to me.

I baked a few muffins that way and the rest the usual way in the non-stick tin that I have. Turned out the same to me, except that the non-paper baked ones had crunchier tops as they browned better. The paper rings might be nice for the food styling but were too fiddly and not needed. Cupcake wrappers or nothing at all will work just fine.

The next recipe I decided to tackle was a little more challenging for me, as I don’t really ever make these. BBC Good Food had a recipe for Smoked Salmon Souffles. These are mini-ones, so they don’t have the same flop-fear-factor that a regular big one will have. This seemed like a relatively easy thing to make, especially as it combines three of my favorite things: eggs, smoked salmon, and dill.

I did have to let them cook for a few minutes longer than the recipe called for in order to get their tops this golden brown. Unfortunately, when I went to plate one to show how they’d appear in final form, I couldn’t get it to hold together the way the one in the photo looks in the magazine. Guess I don’t have that magic touch, but I did manage to dump out the water bath in the sink and not have it spill in my oven or on the floor, something I consider a success.

These are definitely something that I can see being a nice starter for a dinner party or part of a brunch menu. They are simple to make, and as the recipe says, they can be prepared ahead and frozen. Topped with a little bit of smoked salmon and some crème fraîche, these will be my breakfast for the next few days

Buon appetito!

Dutch Pancakes & Mixed-Berry Dutch Baby

Serious Eats, one of my favorite blogs, hosts a weekend cooking share post every weekend. Usually, I don’t catch them in time to participate but last week I did. The theme was pancakes. This hit very close to home for me as one of the first things that I learned to make by myself was Biscuit box mix pancakes.

In our family, there was a mini-tradition of making these on Saturday morning, with a side of cartoons. The ritual was that whichever older child got up first made the batter and then cooked these for the younger ones. Chocolate chips were added only rarely but butter and syrup were usually generously applied. As we’re all now quite spread out geographically, we haven’t been together to continue this in years.

It’s no wonder then that when I saw this cooking suggestion on Serious Eats, my tastebuds were dreaming about lost weekends and remembering a plate of poffertjes that I had at the New Amsterdam Dutch days celebration a couple of weeks ago. While waiting to get into the mini village that had been set up for the occasion, I saw people eating these little paper containers of something that looked good. Wandering around the market, I came across the stand where they were being made.

Pouring the batter via a funnel into the molds


Flipping them from one side to the other to continue cooking

The result was well worth the three-minute wait that I had to see my mini-pancakes being made in front of me. Slathered with butter and dusted with powdered sugar, these rich and fluffy treats were the perfect mid-afternoon slump pick-me-up. It made me proud of my recently-discovered Dutch heritage to know that we’d contributed these to the culinary landscape.

Unfortunately, however, I don’t have one of those pans in which to make the little gems, and I really don’t need any more kitchen gadgets. So, I tackled one of my new favorite recipes that I discovered this past summer in Food & Wine: Mixed-Berry Dutch Baby. This has become my new go-to dish to showcase late-summer berries, and it will definitely make it into my ‘keeper’ file.

It also reminds me of the Dutch Apple Pancake that I had when I was visiting Amsterdam several years ago, and the recipe is similar to ones that I have found for that dish. The fruit becomes enrobed in the soft, cakey filling. The fact that it puffs up so high by the end of its baking time makes it all that more dramatic of a dish to serve to company or to have as a special weekend brunch, syrup not needed and cartoons optional.

Buon appetito!

Piperade Basquaise

After seeing the Julie/Julia movie, I decided that I wanted to read more about Julia Child’s life, which is also partially why I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks. I picked up one biography that was written before her death and also the book in which Mrs. Child described her introduction to French food and the journey that created Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Unfortunately, this had the effect of making me long even more for an entire movie starring Meryl Streep as Julia. The dedication and passion with which Julia Child tackled this project and her determination that American cooks have a chance to learn about this wonderful cuisine made me feel not a little bit guilty that I haven’t tried to make things from her books more often.

While reading My Life in France, Julia mentions a dish called Piperade (on p. 183), that her friend Avis De Voto raved about. Aside from the general hunger pangs that reading these books caused, this reference was to a dish that I actually have made several times before which made me dig the recipe out of my own personal ‘archive.’ That and seeing late-summer tomatoes, ripe red peppers, and fragrant basil at the Greenmarket inspired me to put the books down and to actually make something. The clipping is from The Sunday Times of London about 11 years ago.

I’ve made a couple of notes on the side, just so that I could remember what I liked about this dish and to distinguish it from the hundreds of other recipes that I pull out of magazines. Because Julia mentions making it, I consulted MAFC (p. 137, Volume 1). There (and in versions I found in my other French cookbooks) it talks about scrambling the eggs into the tomato-pepper mixture. As a personal choice, I don’t really like my eggs that way, so this take where the egg is cooked on top of the other ingredients better suits my tastes. It can also be used as a filling for an omelette.

I recommend using a 12-inch skillet to make this. That way, all the ingredients have space to cook without becoming too mushy. The raw peppers and tomatoes will end up reducing. In My Life in France, when going through the recipe testing process, Julia Child mentions some of the challenges in converting the recipes from French to American because even basic ingredients like flour are processed differently between the two countries. I’ve definitely had the same experience, but I’m happy to say that this recipe works well on both sides of the Atlantic.

At the end, you’ll have a special dish for brunch, to serve perhaps with a chunk of a baguette or thick slice of toasted country bread. The sweetness of the tomatoes and peppers is contrasted by the smoky-peppery pancetta (I used a commercially available package of this instead of the bacon) and the bite of the basil. I usually sprinkle a little bit of salt, black pepper, and extra basil on top to finish it. I also made this in a regular batch and then broke it up in smaller portions to be reheated in tapas pans. This would be another way to serve it to your guests or, in my case, to eat it over several days for an extra-nice weekday breakfast.

Buon appetito!

Torta al Cioccolato

I had an Italian-themed group dinner to go to on Sunday. It gave me the perfect excuse to bake the Apricot Crostata that I’d tried out for the first time earlier in the week. As you can see, the response it received was pretty much the same as it had been when I’d made it for the folks at the office. I think I was a bit surprised at the reaction to it, but maybe it was that it just looked so different from typical potluck desserts that everyone wanted to grab a slice. I’m definitely filing this one away in my “keeper” file.

The other dessert I brought was a recipe that I don’t think I’ve made in at least ten years: Torta al Cioccolato.* It was a standby Italian dish that I used to bake when I had dinner parties. I’m not sure why I stopped preparing it except that I don’t really have people over to eat dinner anymore. I just haven’t had the time, energy or money to throw something together the way I used to do. Having a small apartment doesn’t help either. This gathering was a great excuse to test drive it again.

Judging from the plate below, it looks like it was pretty well received. The thing that I like the best about this dessert is that it has a dense chocolate flavor without being overly rich. It isn’t a completely flourless cake, but the small amount of flour is supplemented with ground walnuts. It is perfect with an end-of-dinner espresso. Although I served it without anything on the side, berries and whipped cream, a small scoop of gelato, or a dollop of mascarpone would be a wonderful accompaniment. I think that this cake might just need to make it back into the dessert rotation.

Buon appetito!

*This recipe appeared in the May 1995 issue of Bon Appetit. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find it on line in their archives so I was unable to link to it.

Apricot Crostata with Almonds

I love before-and-after shots, so it’s very tempting just to leave these photos as the entire blog post without any explanation at all. The top one is the Apricot Crostata I made last night. Mind you, it was 80 or so degrees outside with about a gazillion percent humidity. I’m not sure what I was thinking in trying to bake in that weather, except that I’d picked up a dozen gorgeous, ripe apricots at the Greenmarket on Saturday, and they were starting to get to that stage where they would go from perfect-to-eat to starting-to-rot.

The bottom photo shows what happens when you take said crostata to work and let a team of hungry bankers have at it for a day. I watched one person on my team discreetly sneak some small bits of it each time she walked by the credenza where I’d stationed my culinary creation. Other folks did the usual and just hacked off a chunk of it to enjoy while sitting at their desks working on spreadsheets.

Having never made this recipe before, I was a little bit skeptical that some of the extra steps were worth it. I have another version of the same dessert that I’ve made for years and absolutely swear by, but, lately, it had been letting me down a bit. When I finally spotted the apricots at the market last Saturday, I debated for about a second as to whether I would make my usual tart with an almond-honey filling from Patricia Wells or venture into uncharted waters.

It was the apricots that made me take the plunge. I’d been treated to an early sample the week prior by the fruit vendor, so I just knew that their sweet perfume deserved to be maximized to its fullest. I pulled out a recipe from The Washington Post Food Section from a couple of years ago: Apricot Crostata. I’d been a bit hesitant about the fact that you actually have to cook the apricots and basically make a quick jam from them. I’ve never made jam. It’s one of those things I think about, but then you have to fuss with sterilizing bottles and thermometers and stuff.

This, however, was just about as easy as it would have been to open up a jar of someone else’s jam and pour it into the crust. It took about 15 minutes and the only real extra effort was in having to pit and chop the apricots, which can be done while the pastry base is sitting in the fridge. There was the added satisfaction of the bragging rights I got because I could truly say that I made the entire thing from scratch. To my mouth, that made it taste all the better.

Buon appetito!