Month: March 2011

Tortilla Soup

 - by Elizabeth

Well, here’s one more dish I won’t be ordering when I eat out.

That’s what Dave and I say to each other when I cook something up that tastes better than any that we’ve had in eateries around our home.  I was craving Tortilla Soup, but didn’t want Restaurant A’s version (too watery) or Restaurant B’s version (token tortillas on top and none in the soup).  I wanted MY version.  So I turned to Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything (you should get this book) for a start.

Why did I change the recipe and add tomatillos to the mix?  I think it was because my sister had just gotten back from a Mexican Riveria vacation where she’d gone to a cooking class.  They used tomatillos, so it must have been on my mind.  What are tomatillos?  Little tart green tomatoes with a papery skin.  What if you can’t find any in your market?  Eliminate them from the recipe (Bittman doesn’t have them), but as they are TART, I think they punch up the flavor of this soup.  I compensated some for their pucker-inducing by adding sugar.  Add less or more to your taste at the end of the recipe, but remember that the tortillas will absorb some of the punch–your broth should be a bit tangy and spicy before adding the chips.

Here’s our chips–crisp, salty with a bit of lime.  Homeboy Chips: Jobs Not Jails.
Made in Los Angeles.  Where else would no jail term be a selling point?

Ingredients:
1  1/2 fresh chilis, like jalapeno, serrano or Fresno (we used jalapeno)
1  1/2 pounds tomatoes, halved
2 tomatillos, with papery skin removed and stickiness washed off
2 tablespoons neutral oil, like corn or grapeseed
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch dried oregano
4 cups chicken stock, or 2 low-salt 14 oz cans of broth
1/3 to 1/2 chopped fresh cilantro leaves (can use more for garnish, if desired)
2 cups sliced or shredded cooked chicken (Our favorite way to get this is to use the meat from a rotisserie chicken)
1/2 lime, juiced
1/2 lime, cut into wedges
1 ripe avocado, pitted peeled and sliced (for garnish)

Wash the one-and-one-half pounds tomatoes, 2 tomatillos (removing the papery husk) and two jalapeno peppers.  I know I show more tomatillos in the above photo, but I removed one in the end. Slice in half, laying them out skin side UP on in a rimmed baking sheet and broil a few inches away from the heat until the skins are charred.  Then flip them over.  Take enough time that most of the tomatoes are a bit mushy and the skins on the peppers are nice and blistery. [NOTE: There is a temptation to remove the tomato skins.  Be aware that you are also removing some of the char flavor–maybe better to fish out the skins from the soup at the end of the simmering time?]

When cool, peel and seed the chili pepper (I discarded 1/2 of one pepper–we like mild heat in our food), then chop finely. Chop also the tomatillos (on the right of this picture). I didn’t peel the tomatillos or the tomatoes, instead fishing out most of the skins later on–after it had sat for a while.

In a heavy pot over medium heat, put the oil.  When hot, add the garlic and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and softened, about 10 minutes (on the left in the above photo).  Add the tomatoes, tomatillos, and chilis, crushing the tomatoes with the back of the spoon (I found this easier to do AFTER they’d been cooking in the broth for a while).  Season with salt, pepper and oregano; add the stock and adjust the heat so the mixture simmers gently.  Cook for about 25 minutes, crushing the tomatoes from time to time.  Add 1/2 teaspoon sugar to offset the tartness of the tomatillos; see note above.

Bittman says that at this point, the soup can sit for a few hours or refrigerate, covered, for up to a day before reheating and finishing. (I let it sit for about 2 hours.)

Stir in the chicken and tortilla chips–crushing them slightly as you add them–and simmer for another 3 to 5 minutes.  Season to taste with 1/2 of a lime juiced, and sprinkle with salt and pepper (if needed–we found our chips were salty enough), then add in a handful (1/3 cup) of chopped fresh cilantro.  Serve, garnishing with more chips and sliced of avocado.

Chocolate Ganache Frosting

 - by Elizabeth

Yield: Makes about 4 cups, published by Bon Appétit, March 1999 (with some changes).  Originally made to go with Orange-Almond Cake.

Ingredients

1 3/4 cups whipping cream
3/4 cup unsalted butter
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Dutch cocoa)
4 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
8 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate chips (I used Guittard)
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon (scant) almond extract

Preparation

Whisk first 4 ingredients in medium saucepan over medium heat until butter melts and mixture comes to simmer. Remove saucepan from heat. Add chocolate and both extracts. Whisk until chocolate is melted and smooth.  I glazed my single layer cakes while it was still warm, but if doing the triple-layer cake, refrigerate frosting until slightly thickened but still spreadable, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes.

Note: the original recipe called for 16 ounces bittersweet, but in reading the comments from the reviewers, they all said to go with a mixture.  I did.  Yummy!  You’ll be fighting over who gets to lick the pan.

Orange-Almond Cake with Chocolate Icing

 - by Elizabeth

How did I learn about this recipe? My friend Andrea made this cake for her birthday.  She’s a remarkable woman, always making some new delicious confection for her birthday.  She tries a new one each year, and I love reading on her Facebook posts what she’s chosen for that year.  The reason this cake intrigued me?  She wrote about this right as I was asked to be in charge of the food for our Women’s Conference (300 people!).  I hit on the idea that instead of making a three-layer cake, I’d keep the layers single, and glaze them with the chocolate ganache and serve them that way. Instead of serving 10 with one recipe, I could serve 30 (although they may all be fighting over any leftovers on the table).

To prepare, I made them last night.  I wasn’t too sure about this, until I had brushed on the “orange jam” and coated them with the chocolate ganache.  Oh, my!  Another cooking friend, Wendy, agreed to be my partner in desert-crime and help me make batches and batches of this for the conference.  So, thanks, Andrea for the idea and thanks, Wendy for always including me in your food adventures.  Here’s one for you.

Yield: Serves 10  Originally published in Bon Appetit, March 1999.  My changes are listed below.

Ingredients for Cake
3 large oranges
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour, divided
1 cup whole almonds
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Ingredients–Orange “Jam
1 1/2 cups fresh orange juice–approximately 3-4 oranges.  Use the juice from the three peeled oranges (above).  I had to add one more orange to get the juice I needed.
generous 1 tablespoon sugar

Chocolate Ganache Icing (click on link, or see below)

Additional whole almonds, small orange-slice triangles and mint leaves for garnish

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place pan on waxed paper, and using scissors, trace around the pan.  Cut out three layers of wax paper on the circle line.

Grease (or butter) the bottom and sides of three 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Place the wax paper circle in the bottom of the pan and grease that.  Dust with flour; tap out excess. I say to grease the sides, because a) it comes out easier, and b) it’s prettier if you are using the cake as a single layer.

Using vegetable peeler, remove peel (orange part only) in strips from oranges.  Coarsely chop enough peel to measure 1/2 cup.

Combine flour, 1 cup almonds, baking powder and salt in food processor; blend until finely ground. Transfer to medium bowl.

Place 2 cups sugar and orange peel in processor (left); blend until peel is finely minced (right).

Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until blended. Add sugar mixture and beat until fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Mix milk and both extracts in small bowl. On low speed, beat flour mixture into egg mixture alternately with milk mixture in 3 additions each.

Divide batter among prepared pans. It’s pretty thick.  Smooth it out.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes, and cakes begin to pull away from sides (touch test with finger didn’t work).Don’t overbake. Cool cakes in pans on racks 8 minutes. Loosen cake around edges with narrow spatula, then turn cakes out onto racks, remove wax paper from bottom, and cool completely. They are a bit fragile when warm.

Boil 1 1/2 cups fresh orange juice and remaining generous 1 tablespoon sugar in small saucepan until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 15 minutes (watch carefully and stir occasionally). Brush warm juice mixture over tops of cooled cakes.

For the Women’s Conference, I poured about 1/2 cup warm ganache over the cake and using an off-set spatula, smoothed it over the cake, letting it run down the edges (I had them on a rack to do this, although not that much dripped over that you couldn’t just do it on a plate).  If you need more icing on the edges, smooth some on with the spatula.  It makes a silky-looking glaze, but who cares how it looks?  It is delicious, and sets up after about 30 minutes.  Transfer to plate, decorate with almonds and oranges, or whatever you choose.

Their photo, in a three-layer cake version:

Place 1 cake layer, orange syrup side up, on cake platter. Spread 1 cup Chocolate Icing over. Top with second cake layer, then 1 cup icing. Top with third cake layer, syrup side up.

Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and store at room temperature.)

Arrange additional almonds, orange triangles and mint leaves around top edge of cake. Slice cake and serve.

Chocolate Icing also from Bon Appétit, March 1999

Yield: Makes about 4 cups–enough for two batches of cake.  If you are only making one cake, I advise you to double-glaze it, or else cut the ingredients down by at least 1/3.

Ingredients

1 3/4 cups whipping cream
3/4 cup unsalted butter
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Dutch cocoa)
4 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
8 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate chips (I used Guittard)
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon (scant) almond extract

Preparation

Whisk first 4 ingredients in medium saucepan over medium heat until butter melts and mixture comes to simmer. Remove saucepan from heat. Add chocolate and both extracts. Whisk until chocolate is melted and smooth.  I glazed my single layer cakes while it was still warm, but if doing the triple-layer cake, refrigerate frosting until slightly thickened but still spreadable, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes.

Note: the original recipe called for 16 ounces bittersweet, but in reading the comments from the reviewers, they all said to go with a mixture.  I did.  Yummy!  You’ll be fighting over who gets to lick the pan.

Pecan-Crusted Trout with Orange-Butter Sauce

 - by Elizabeth

I got this recipe from–where else?–Bon Appétit, published in April 1996.  I’d been over to our local grocers and they had a fine selection of fresh fish.  I randomly selected trout, thinking of when we’d had it on our honeymoon in Austria.  We were in the hills above the town of Salzburg and the owner had diverted some of the mountain stream into a holding tank, where he farmed trout.  As we sat down to dinner that night, he asked us what size fish we would like.  We used our hands to gesture, as neither of us spoke German.  He went over behind us, and I heard some splashing, then a firm *whack*.  He held up two now-whacked-dead trout.  “Gut?” he asked, with a huge grin on his face.  We nodded. “Gut.”  And they were.  We even ordered one more and shared it.  When are you ever–except if you catch it yourself–going to have trout that fresh?

Bon Appetit addes this note: At the fish market, ask them to remove the head, tail and bones from the trout, then to cut each trout into two fillets, leaving the skin intact. Mine was already a fillet, so I didn’t have to do any of that.  We thought this was delicious.

Yield: Serves 4

Ingredients for trout
2 cups pecans (about 8 ounces)
1 cup all purpose flour
2 large (12- to 14-ounce) trout, filleted, skin left intact
3 large egg whites, beaten to blend

Ingredients for sauce
1 1/2 cups fresh orange juice
1 cup dry wine–I don’t drink, so I used apple juice with a splash of rice vinegar
2/3 cup chopped shallots
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
8 5-inch-long fresh parsley stems
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 large fresh thyme sprig (ACK! didn’t have any, so I sprinkled some dried thyme into the mix)
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
1/4 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces

For assembly
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 carrots, peeled, cut into matchstick-size strips
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
4 cups thinly sliced savoy cabbage

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter

Chopped fresh chives

Preparation

Make trout:

Combine pecans and 1 tablespoon flour in processor. Grind pecans finely; transfer to plate. Place remaining flour on another plate. Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper. Dip 1 fillet into flour to coat; shake off excess. Using pastry brush, brush flesh side with egg whites. Place fillet, egg white side down, onto pecans; press to coat with nuts. Transfer to waxed paper-lined baking sheet, pecan side down. Repeat with remaining 3 fillets; chill.

Make sauce:

Combine first 7 ingredients in medium saucepan. Boil 10 minutes; add rosemary. Boil until liquid is reduced to 1/2 cup, about 10 minutes. Strain sauce into another medium saucepan, pressing on solids in sieve. Add cream; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Whisk in butter 1 piece at a time (do not boil). Season with salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature up to 2 hours.

To assemble:

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large Dutch oven over high heat. Add carrot and bell pepper; toss 2 minutes. Add cabbage; toss until cabbage wilts, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Place 2 fillets, pecan side down, into skillet. Cook until crust is golden and crisp, about 2 minutes. Using spatula, turn fillets over. Cook until just opaque in center, about 2 minutes. Transfer to plate. Repeat with remaining butter, oil and fish.

Whisk sauce over low heat to rewarm (do not boil). Divide vegetables among plates. Top with fish. Spoon sauce around fish and vegetables. Sprinkle with chopped chives and serve.