February 5, 2017

Rustic Tomato Soup

Happy February!  I hope the new year is off to a great start for everyone.

I love a good tomato soup - there's something comforting about it.  However, like so many good things, tomato soups are often full of cream, butter, and cheese.  I wanted to come up with a healthier tomato soup that still tasted top notch.

This is a simple soup to make that doesn't require any real complicated ingredients.

After making Thomas Keller's French onion soup over the holiday season, I really have appreciated that roasting vegetables takes a soup from good to great.  Roasted vegetables have so much more flavor, so I roasted carrots, celery, garlic, and onion for this soup.  I didn't roast the tomatoes because my favorite Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes are perfect just as they are!  If you want to roast the tomatoes, go for it!  Just reserve the liquid from the tomato cans for the soup.

After you roast the veggies, you'll add it to a soup pot with tomatoes and your choice of stock.  I also like adding a bay leaf and parmesan cheese rind to the soup.  Parmesan cheese rinds adds a hint of cheese flavor and the right saltiness.  After it cooks, you'll run it through a food mill, blender, etc. to puree it.  I keep it a little chunky.

I've made this soup three times already.  I love having a cup for an afternoon snack--it's something you can feel good about indulging in, too!

Rustic Tomato Soup
Yields 4-6 servings

Ingredients:
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
3 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic
1 large sweet onion, sliced
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 28-ounce cans of whole tomatoes
4 cups/32 oz. of chicken, vegetable, or beef stock
1 bay leaf
1 parmesan cheese rind, optional
Red pepper flakes, optional
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375ºF.  On a large baking sheet, place the cut carrots, celery, onion, and garlic cloves.  Drizzle with the 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Roast in oven for 45 minutes, turning vegetables halfway.  Once done, remove from oven and set aside.

Once the vegetables are coated, place a large soup pot (at least 6 quarts) over medium high heat.  Add the canned tomatoes (including the juice), the stock, and then the roasted vegetables.  Add in a bay leaf, cheese rind, and any other desired salt, pepper, and/or red pepper flakes.  Cook over medium high heat until the soup begins to boil, and then reduce heat to low.  Cook over low for 20-30 minutes, stirring periodically.

Then, transfer the soup in batches to a blender or a food processor to puree.  Alternatively, you can use a food mill or even an immersion blender if it will not damage your pot.  Serve and enjoy! Garnish with any extra herbs you desire.

A Simply Sweet Justice Original

December 29, 2016

Gougeres



These are deliciously delightful!  These golden cheesy puffs are a great make-ahead snack for any party.  Any cheese appetizer is always loved at a party!

Gougeres are cheese puffs that are made by folding cheese into the dough and then baking them into little rounds.  These ingredients are normally on hand, which makes these a great appetizer to make.  You can also vary up the cheeses, too.  I also like that you can make these ahead of time and freeze them.  When you are ready to serve, you just quickly reheat them in the oven.

I made these ahead of time for my Christmas cookie exchange and reheated them before the guests came.  They reheated perfectly and tasted so good!  By the way, they paired nicely with bubbly, in case you are looking for a New Year's eve appetizer. :)

Gougeres
Yields 32 puffs

Ingredients:
1 cup full-fat milk
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter
120 grams (1 cup) all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
4 large eggs
1/2 cup grated Gruyere, plus extra for sprinkling
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp. water, for egg wash

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 425ºF and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk, butter, salt, pepper, and nutmeg until scalded.  Add all of the flour and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together.  It will be very thick.  Cook over low heat for two minutes.

Then, dump the hot mixture into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the standard steel blade.  Add the eggs and cheeses and pulse into the eggs are fully incorporated and the dough is smooth and thick.

Add the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a large plain round tip.  Pipe in mounds 1 1/4 inches wide and 3/4 inch high onto the baking sheets.  With a wet finger, lightly press down the swirl at the top of each puff.  You can also use two spoons to scoop the mixture or a cookie dough scoop.

Brush the top of each puff lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with a pinch of Gruyere.  Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown outside but still soft inside.

Note: You can make these ahead!  After baking them, allow to cool before adding to a freezer proof bag.  Freeze, and when you are ready to serve, preheat the oven to 400ºF and place the puffs on baking sheets in the oven for 5 minutes.

Source: Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris

December 25, 2016

German Springerle



Merry Christmas!!!

I packed a set of the 12 Days in boxes for everyone.
This year for my cookie exchange, I made German Springerle   I never tried these cookies or knew much about them, but I was intrigued by how beautiful they are!  These cookies are traditional Christmas cookies in Germany and Austria for centuries that date back to the 1400's.  They are most typically anise-flavored and made from a egg-flour-sugar dough.  Generally, they are rectangular or circular in shape with a very ornate design stamped on the top.  The designs are imprinted with specially carved ornate rolling pins or Springerle molds.  Initially, the cookies contained detailed biblical images to educate those who couldn't read or write, and the cookies continued to evolve with other images and were used almost like cards to celebrate holidays and other events (like births and weddings).

The molds are generally made from clay, wood, and metal.  The molds look like pieces of art!  They are so elaborate and detailed, and some molds are even on display in museums.  Families treasure their Springerle molds and pass them on from generation to generation.  In the 1400's, the Springerle molds were more biblical and religious, and by the 1700's, the molds became smaller.  During the 1800's, the molds began to depict more scenes of happiness, friendship, and simple, and by the 1900's, the designs became more simple and focused on the holidays.  Tracking down the molds was difficult!  When I was in Germany, I looked for the molds but only found a few in other Christmas designs.  I ended up finding a beautiful set from King Arthur Flour: the Twelve Days of Christmas! 

The cookies are wrapped up for everyone!
It was a true labor of love to make these cookies!  Each party guest received all twelve days, so all in all, I ended up making around 21 dozen of Springerle.
   
Here are some tidbits that I learned while making Springerle:

  • Go higher in gluten!  Cake flour is generally used for Springerle cookies to help make them softer.  Cake flour is made of softer wheat flours, so it is higher in gluten.  The cookies will harden over time, so if you use all-purpose four, the cookie will be harder in the beginning.  I did one batch of test Springerle with all-purpose flour, and I found that it was much easier to roll the dough and make the imprints with dough containing cake flour.


  • Use hartshorn.  Who knew hartshorn, also known as baking ammonia, existed?  Hartshorn helps give the cookies a crisp design and a longer "shelf life."  Additionally, it acts as a leavening that causes the cookie to double in height during baking,  I ended up ordering hartshorn online because I could not find it in any stores.  It has an atrocious smell (two of my friends jumped when smelling it!), but it does wonders for baking! 

  • Brush the molds with flour. It is critical to brush each mold with flour each time that you press the dough.  This prevents the mold from sticking to the dough and also allows for the image to be crisply stamped.  Once you get use to pressing the dough with the molds, the process of rolling and pressing the cookies goes quite quickly!  I could typically press out 18 cookies in a half hour once I got the hang of it.  
  • Leave the cookies out for 24 hours before baking.  Yes, it sounds weird, but the cookies need to sit out uncovered for a full 24 hours before you bake them.  This helps to preserve the design of the cookies.  Experienced Springerle bakers recommend placing the cookies in the coolest area of the home, so I stored the cookies in my basement during the waiting period.  Because the cookies are baked at over 200ºF, any bacteria is eliminated during the baking process.
  • Oven temperature is very important.  To preserve the beautiful and ornate design of the cookies, you need to bake the cookies at a much lower temperature.  If the oven is too hot, the design on the cookie will spread while baking.  I learned this mistake the hard way! ;-)  From what I read while learning about Springerle cookies, generally the larger the cookie, the lower the temperature and the longer the baking time, and the smaller the cookie, the lower the temperature.  
  • Flavor.  The Springerle are typically anise flavored, but I'm not a fan of anise.  I used Fiori di Sicilia which is a citrus vanilla extract.  It smells divine and tasted much better than anise, in my opinion.  You could use citrus oil, vanilla extract, almond extract, or even a combination of different spices.  
Boxes of Springerle for my friends and family!
  • Make ahead.  As one of my friends best said it, these cookies are like a fine wine, as they get better with age!  Springerle are supposed to be made in advance and last a long while (like months!).  They harden over time, which makes them a perfect cookie for dunking in tea or coffee.  For the cookie party, I started making the Springerle about two weeks prior to the party.  Each day, I would usually make at least "two days" of the 12 Days of Christmas.  It was great to be done with baking a few days before the party because this gave me time to focus on getting the house ready and preparing other party eats.  
I'm totally type A and a bit of a perfectionist (ha!) especially when it comes to baking, so I was initially worried that making these cookies could end up being a bit stressful.  It was quite the opposite!  I found the process of making these cookies to be relaxing and so much fun.  I would have a Christmas movie on while rolling and pressing the dough, and my dogs joined me in the kitchen.  Each time I would remove the mold, I couldn't help but smile seeing the beautiful design (and feeling victorious at mastering the imprint!).

I read someone describe these cookies as a "charm for happiness," and I thought that was just beautiful and so fitting.  I look forward to making and sharing my new tradition of Springerle each Christmas!

German Springerle
Yields 2-3 dozen (depending on size)

Ingredients:
2 lbs. cake flour
1.5 lbs. confectioner's sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup butter (1/4 lb./4 oz.)
1/2 tsp. Hartshorn (specialty baking ammonia)
2 tbsp. whole milk
4 tsp. Fiori di Sicilia or pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt

Directions:
In a small bowl, dissolve the Hartshorn in the milk.  Allow the mixture to sit for 45 minutes.

25 minutes after the Hartshorn and milk have been sitting, in the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, add the six eggs and beat for 20 minutes on medium-low speed or until the eggs have thickened and become lemon colored.

Next, add the confectioner's sugar and the butter and beat with the paddle attachment until combined.  Then, add the Hartshorn-milk mixture, salt, and Fiori di Sicilia.  Finally, gradually add the cake flour, and continue mixing on medium-low speed until a stiff and cohesive dough has formed.

Either leave the dough in the stand mixer bowl and cover with plastic wrap, or transfer the dough to another large bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the dough bowl from the refrigerator and allow it to sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes so that the dough will slightly soften.  Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a well floured surface, take some dough and roll the dough into a flat pancake that is approximately 1/2 inch thick.  Flour your cookie mold for each and every pressing.  Press the floured mold into the dough, then lift, cut, and place the formed cookie onto the parchment paper lined cookie sheets.  Allow the cookies to dry for 24 hours uncovered.

The next day, preheat the oven to 255ºF.  Bake for 10-15 minutes until barely gold on the bottom.

Source: House on the Hill

December 23, 2016

Pancetta Caramelized Onion Dip


One of the hit appetizers at my Christmas cookie exchange was my pancetta onion dip (pictured in the red tin).  Every year, I like to do make a few appetizers that are a twist on traditional appetizers.   I think no party is complete without some type of dip, and onion dip is always a hit!  My take on the standard onion dip was to make a caramelized onion dip with pancetta.

Caramelized onions takes a lot of time, but it is so worth the time it takes to coax the flavor out of the onions.  I prefer to use oil instead of butter when caramelized onions because butter had a tendency to burn.  When cutting your onions, you don't want to make them too thin because they will burn faster and stick the pan and dry faster.  Adding pancetta also makes the dip even more addicting.

I used full-fat Greek yogurt and added in a little creme fraiche with it.  You could use sour cream instead of the Greek yogurt and also skip the added addition of creme fraiche.  The dip was not tangy at at all from using yogurt, and it had a nice creamy consistency.

I had pita chips and celery to serve with the dip, and people even topped the gougeres (French style cheese puffs) with the dip.  Enjoy!

Pancetta Caramelized Onion Dip
Yields enough for a party!

Ingredients:
12 oz. full-fat Greek Yogurt (1 container)
3 tbsp. creme fraiche or sour cream (optional)
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
4 oz. diced pancetta or bacon
3 tbsp. chopped fresh chives
1 large onion, diced (1/8" cubes)
3/4 tsp. salt

Directions:
In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil.  Allow the olive oil to heat for a minute, and then add the onions and reduce the heat to medium-low.  Cook the onions slowly for about 35 minutes, stirring periodically.  After 35 minutes, add the diced pancetta.  Cook on medium heat for another 10 minutes so the onions caramelize further in the pancetta fat.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.

After the onion-pancetta bacon has cooled, add it to a serving bowl and mix in the Greek yogurt, chopped chives, and salt.  Cover and refrigerate to allow the flavors to marinate.  Serve with chips and veggies of choice!

A Simple Sweet Justice Original
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