Thursday, September 19, 2013

Quick Asian-Style Dumpling Soup

This came from Cook's Country magazine, which I actually prefer quite a bit to Cook's Illustrated, though both tend to go on and on about how they got to their eventual recipe. C'est la vie. One can easily skim or skip and see what the darned recipe looks like.

An exception to this tendency is the eight recipes that are always on cardstock in the middle of the publication, perforated so one can easily detach them and have a ready made recipe card with picture on one side and recipe on the other.

I'm a sucker for Asian soups of all sorts and this one looked tempting with dumplings, green onions, and mushrooms poised in the bowl of broth. My one fear was that it wasn't hearty enough for a main dish.

This recipe delivered on both flavor and filling ability, especially when accompanied by a baguette and salad (dressed with Balsamic Vinaigrette). I made a half recipe for the two of us which was a hearty meal. I think next time I'll make a full recipe up to the point of adding the dumplings, saving half the soup base for adding dumplings a second evening.

I'll be making this one again, definitely.

Quick Asian-Style Dumpling Soup

Serves 4

4 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 scallions, white and green parts separated, sliced thin on bias
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced thin (I used regular mushrooms, so sue me)
6 cups chicken broth
16 ounces frozen Asian-style dumplings or potstickers
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice

Cook bacon in large saucepan over medium heat until crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from pan and return pan to medium heat. (Conversely, if you don't have 2 tablespoons of fat, then add vegetable oil to achieve that measurement.)

Add scallion whites, ginger, and pepper flakes and cook until scallion whites have softened, about 2 minutes.

Add mushrooms and cook until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.

Add broth and bring to boil.

Add dumplings and simmer over medium-low heat until dumplings are cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in fish sauce and lime juice.

Serve, sprinkled with scallion greens and bacon.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Continual Feast by Evelyn Birge Vitz

A Continual Feast: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Joys of Family & Faith Throughout the Christian YearA Continual Feast: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Joys of Family & Faith Throughout the Christian Year by Evelyn Birge Vitz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At Pentecost a few years ago the usefulness of food for teaching religious ideas really became apparent to me. I was trying to explain to my children what Pentecost was, and their eyes were getting that glassy look that mothers know so well. I was losing them fast. Then (providential inspiration?) I declared, "We are going to bake a cake to eat on the great feast of Pentecost. How shall we decorate it?" Now, as it happens, my children love to decorate cakes and cookies. Their eyes brightened and their ears pricked up. We made a pretty wild-looking bakery item, with flames and doves and rays of light, but we all had a wonderful time, and they certainly knew what Pentecost was by the time we were through.
Evelyn Vitz goes on to give a recipe for making and decorating the Pentecost Cake, but as we can see, this is much more than a cookbook. As the subtitle says, it is: "A cookbook to celebrate the joys of family and faith throughout the Christian year." This book is perfect for the family who wants to reflect the joy of their faith in every part of their lives, including the kitchen and dining room.

The first half of the book focuses on "All the days of our lives" with meals for celebrations, daily dining, and hospitality. This is also where the section on fasting and meat-free meals is included. As Vitz points out, abstinence from meat is still required of American Catholics unless they replace it with some other form of penance or good work. And that puts it squarely in the regular part of our meal planning lives.

"The Christian Year" is the focus of the second half which is organized according to the liturgical calendar. Vitz gives good explanations of the evolution and meanings of different customs and rites. She includes sections on days of fasting and abstinence and saints days, which I know is something that families often struggle to incorporate into their busy lives. Aimed primarily at Catholic and Orthodox families there is still a lot of information for exploration by Protestant families interested in tradition. The recipes in this section include a big section for saints days and special feast days, organized by season.

Lovely drawings and food-faith quotes are scattered throughout the book in pertinent spots. Some of the recipes are simple, some complex, and they are drawn from countries around the world. All were obviously chosen a lot of care and I was impressed with the range. Most of all, though, Evelyn Vitz's warm personality and love of faith come through in every headnote for each recipe.

Here's a sample recipe that caught my eye since autumn is upon us, which means All Souls Day looms ever nearer (November 2). I want to try these.
Beans of the dead
Fave Dei Morti

Here is a recipe for Italian "soul" cookies called Fave dei Morti, "Beans of the Dead." The theme of beans suggests, among other things, the idea of burial in the ground and rebirth. Sometimes "soul" cookies are called Ossi de Morti--"Bones of the Dead"--and are made in the shape of bones. In fact, the central ingredient in all the forms of this cookis is ground or crushed nuts, which are understood to suggest bones. (This theme is also common in bakery items for this day in other countries, such as Mexico.) These perhaps morbid considerations notwithstanding, Fave (and Ossi) dei Morti are delicious.

2/3 cup blanched almonds
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces and softened
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Grated rind of 1 lemon

Place the almonds on a baking sheet and dry them out for 10 minutes or so in a slow oven: 200°. Reset the oven for 350‚.

Grind the almonds very fine. Place them in a large bowl. Add the sugar, and blend the mixture well with a fork. Add the flour and the cinnamon, then the butter, and finally the egg, the vanilla, and the grated lemon rind, mixing well with each addition. With a fork or floured hands, work the mixture to a smooth paste.

Break off large-bean-sized pieces of paste (about 1 inch long), and place them about 2 inches apart on a greased, floured baking sheet. [My comment ... I would use parchment paper here.] Squash each bean slightly to produce an oval shape like a lima or fava bean.

Bake for about 15 minutes, or until they are a golden color.

Yield: about 100 one-inch beans.

Form pieces of dough into the shape of bones, 1 or 2 inches long.
Please Note:
I received this review copy of A Continual Feast from the good folks at Catholic Family Gifts. They've got a lot of great items there, including this cookbook and several others.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Curried Cream of Chicken Soup

This is from The Silver Palate Cookbook. It is simple, delicious, and a touch out of the ordinary, both because of the curry flavor and the "cream" method which calls for half-and-half but is just as good with regular milk!

Step 1:
6 tablespoons butter (I use 2 tablespoons)
2 cups minced onions
2 carrots, peeled and chopped

Cook over low heat, covered, until tender.

Step 2:
2 tablespoons curry powder
5 cups chicken stock
6 parsley sprigs
1 chicken, quartered
½ cup rice
Salt and pepper to taste

Add all. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover. Simmer until chicken is done. Cool chicken in stock. Remove meat from bones and dice it.

Step 3:
1 cup half and half (I use milk, either whole or 2%, depending on what I've got around)
10 ounces frozen peas, defrosted

Remove fat from broth. Strain soup through strainer.

Put solids and 1 cup stock in food processor and puree. Return to pot and add milk. Stir in reserved stock until soup reaches desired consistency. Add chicken and peas and simmer for 15 minutes or until peas are done. Season to taste.