Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Pizza Soup

You've heard of Taco Soup, that deconstructed hot mess of salsaliciousness where no spoon is needed as long as you have plenty of tortilla chips.  Meet Taco Soup's Italian cousin - Pizza Soup.  It is molto bene.

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 medium red, yellow or orange bell pepper, diced
4 cloves of garlic, finely diced, divided
1 quart of canned Roma tomatoes, including canning liquid
1 can diced tomatoes, including liquid
4 cups tomato juice or V8 juice
2 cups chicken stock
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
7 oz. sliced pepperoni
10 oz. finely grated Parmesan, Parmagiono-Regiano or Asiago cheese
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. fennel seed
Sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper
8-10 leaves of fresh basil, chopped (chiffonade)

1 loaf of good Italian bread or French bread

The Method
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Heat 2 Tbsp. of olive oil in a medium to large stock pot over medium heat and add onions and peppers.  Saute for 3-4 minutes and add 3 cloves of garlic.  Saute for 1 more minute, then add tomatoes, tomato juice, chicken stock and lemon juice.

Add pepperoni to a frying pan and fry over medium heat until pepperoni gets crispy and much of the fat is rendered off then remove pepperoni from pan and set aside.

Add Italian seasoning and about half of the grated cheese to the soup, along with about 1/3 of the pepperoni.  Stir to combine and let soup simmer over medium low heat for 10-15 minutes.

While the soup simmers, slice bread (bias cut) in 3/4 inch slices and brush 1 side with olive oil and place oiled side down on a large jelly roll pan.  Combine remaining clove of finely diced garlic with 1 tsp. sea salt, 3 Tbsp. of olive oil spread on top of each slice of bread.  Sprinkle a small amount of grated cheese on each piece.  Place bread in the oven to toast for 8-10 minutes, them remove from oven.  Chop or crumble remaining pepperoni and set aside for garnish.  Salt and pepper soup to taste, remove from heat and serve.  Top each bowl with some of the remaining pepperoni, cheese and basil.  Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.  Serve with bread.

Food for Thought.
Instead of fresh basil, you could whip up a nice pesto and just drizzle it over the soup.  If you don't know how to make a simple traditional pesto, it is easy enough to find out how online.  For acceptable results without the bit of extra work, a good store bought pesto can be a good alternative (I like the Classico Fresh Basil Pesto).

Of course, this recipe is just for the pepperoni version of Pizza Soup and as we all know, pizzas can include whatever we want so if you want a meat lovers, something more exotic like Feta with sundried tomatoes, marinated artichoke hearts or anything else that sounds good to you, go for it.  Just throw it in.  If you like taco pizza, you could even do a taco pizza soup.  Well - maybe not.  As always, ingredients are only part of the equation.  Technique is needed to for proper execution.  Having lived in the East for several years, I know how difficult it can be to make a truly killer New York style pizza crust here in the West where the water and the altitude can make ideal results elusive at best.  Fortunately, soup can be more forgiving.  Buon  Appetito!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Gustatory Glimpse of the Past; Granny's Burnt Sugar Cake

I had actually forgotten about this particular type of cake but recently, while talking with my sister Tracy, she mentioned it and it came back into my memory with remarkable clarity.  It was the taste of dessert at birthday dinners that my Granny Rhinehart would host for my father or for his siblings.  It was always present at her large pot-luck-palooza Christmas parties and often in the quaint home where she lived and which I visited frequently in my childhood.  It is a taste unlike any other dessert, pastry or confection.  It is the taste of Burnt Sugar Cake.

In looking for information online, I came across a great blog with an excellent write-up and what looks like a great recipe:  You can check it out at http://chickensintheroad.com/cooking/old-time-burnt-sugar-cake/.

As for my personal quest to find that particular recipe that I was once familiar with and which I hope my sisters will enjoy, I got this recipe from my Aunt Barbara, my grandmother's oldest daughter.  She says it is virtually the same as Granny's.  Thus I will henceforth refer to this recipe as Granny's Burnt Sugar Cake.  Only she knows if her recipe was different and I will not be able to ask her for specific information on her recipe until I pass on as she has done.  But since she introduced us all to it and made it so delicious (as were all of her baked goods with the probable exception of mincemeat pie, which I always managed to avoid) I decided to call it after her, though I am also thankful to my sister for jogging my memory and for my Aunt Barbara for sending this to me.  As for the actual origins of burnt sugar cake, I suspect serendipity, though I have not found any kitchen lore about this unique treat.

I have not made it yet.  In most ways, it looks very similar to the one posted above (which has great pictures).  I plan to try them both.  For now, here is the family version as it was sent to me.  I am posting it as written because I believe in preserving the historicity and authenticity of nostalgic recipes like this (though I am also not opposed to making minor changes if such changes seem suitable).  It should be easy enough to follow as it is well written.  After a bit of practice, I will post my findings and, if indicated, will include any minor modifications to the recipe or clarifications to the instructions, which my field research may warrant.  Enjoy.

Burnt Sugar Cake
Make a burnt sugar syrup to make this old-fashioned cake.  


Burnt Sugar Syrup
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. boiling water
See directions below

Burnt Sugar Cake
3 c. sifted cake flour - sift before measuring (plain flour works fine)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. sweet butter at room temperature
1 1/4 c. sugar
3 eggs at room temperature
1/2 c. burnt sugar syrup (see below)
1 tsp. vanilla

Burnt Sugar Frosting
1/4 c. unsalted butter
1 lb. powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. burnt sugar syrup
1 tsp. vanilla


Burnt Sugar Syrup
Melt 3/4 c. sugar in a skillet over low heat, stirring occasionally until it turns into an amber-colored liquid.  Turn off heat and very carefully add boiling water.  Mixture will splatter at first.  Return the caramel to low heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until the sugar and water are thoroughly mixed and smooth.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Burnt Sugar Cake
Adjust rack to lower third of oven; preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 9-inch layer cake pans.  Line pans with parchment paper rounds.  Sift together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.  Cream butter until smooth.  Add sugar and continue creaming until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until well blended.  To the 1/2 c. of burnt sugar syrup add enough water to make 1 c.  Stir in the vanilla.  Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternately with the burnt sugar syrup mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, until well blended and smooth.  Divide the batter between the two cake pans.  Bake about 25 minutes, or until the surface springs back slightly when lightly touched in the center, and the cakes contract from the pans.  Cool 10 minutes on wire racks, then invert on racks, carefully peel off paper liners, turn baked side up and cool completely before frosting.  Fill and frost with Burnt Sugar Frosting.  Decorate with whole pecan halves.

Burnt Sugar Frosting
Cream 1/4 c. unsalted butter until light and fluffy.  Gradually beat in 1 pound (1 box) powdered sugar (sifted), with 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/4 c. burnt sugar syrup and 1 tsp. vanilla  until creamy smooth and spreadable.  If mixture is stiff, add water, a teaspoon at a time.

One thought that occurs to me is that I would like volume measurements on the powdered sugar rather than weight (hope they actually sell 1 lb. packages or else I'll finally have to get a good digital scale).  The other thought is that I would like to trick the pecans out just a bit, either by roasting them a bit and salting them (good contrast with all of the sugar going on) or candy them (more sugar cannot be bad either).  

Friday, December 9, 2011

Move Over Julia Child!

Many of the great classical music pieces that we hear so often that they become commonplace (nothing says high culture like a cat food commercial set to something catchy from the Romantic era), were not well received by the critics or society at large in their day.  Many great and enduring works of literature (like my beloved Count of Monte Cristo) were esteemed as nothing more than tabloid-grade fiction for which the authors were sometimes reimbursed by the page.  So it is with this gem; a culinary muse for the 21st century written by a misunderstood genius who was simply ahead of her time.  Put down Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for the Food and Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.  Pick up a copy of Microwaving for One.  I don't know how the James Beard Foundation missed this one when the awards were being given out.  Can't wait to get my hands on a copy.  Let me know if you run across one.  Just check out this link for some great testimonials. 


Can't wait!

Beep!  Mmmmm!  Appetizers - Jalepeno Beepers.  The main course - Radiated Radiotore with Tuna and Creamed Corn! And for dessert - Nuked Alaska!  There will be no leftovers tonight. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Table for One

An old German proverb has come to my mind recently.  I've also heard this proverb credited to the Dutch and the Russians and there is a variant from Don Quixote which, says that hunger is the best sauce, though any country - especially in Europe, could lay claim.  Even so, I am going with German because I am of German descent, because the history of the Germanic people testifies of their familiarity with scarcity and hunger, and because as I write this, I am definitely ready for dinner: a dinner that I will enjoy with my family, the way we do throughout the week but especially on Sunday, except for one very lonely Sunday two weeks ago when my wife and kids were out of town and I was home.  My wife had planned a very fun adventure for the kids but timing and other logistical factors precluded my participation. 

While I always enjoy church, on this week I was especially glad for the distraction and to be around friends and neighbors, if not family, though the afternoon was uncharted territory for me - I was a lone traveler in a land of isolation.  On other days during my family's time away, I could distract myself from my solitude with work, errands, dinner with the missionaries in our area and other activities including a movie and NBA Jam challenge on the Wii with my excellent brother-in-law Stephen.  While it was a given that their absence would be temporary and of a defined and relatively brief duration, especially when compared to periods of separation endured by others due to work, military service or death, it was nonetheless acutely felt. 

I went through the motions of existence and decided to make a family favorite - a simple but classic chicken pot pie.  My plan was that leftovers would serve as good fodder for later and that I would not have to cook again for a while.

Though it was the usual preparation, as I sat down to eat, it just didn't seem to be that savory.  What does that have to do with the proverb?  The answer is this: Hunger may be the best cook, but good company is the best seasoning, and the want of it leaves a gap that cannot be filled with food, no matter how delicious it may otherwise be.        

Friday, June 3, 2011

Repurposed Edibles

If you know my wife, you might not be surprised to find out that she is a fan of HGTV. She is an interesting kid on many levels and she is interested in a wide variety of different topics, including different places, where and how people in those places live and what they do to make their surroundings more aesthetically pleasing. One concept I've become aware of through some of this programming is that of reclaiming old building materials that can be repurposed - that is, used for another application, such as taking wood from an abandoned house and using it in a different project or picking up old bricks from a demolition site and using them to build yourself a retaining wall or planter box. Aside from being time and labor intensive, there is relatively little if any actual cost to acquire the materials. Furthermore, it is eco-friendly. Now I have never hugged a tree but I appreciate the conservation approach. More than that, however, I like the idea that something that was to be cast-off or was esteemed as being of no worth can, with a little interest, planning and effort, be made into something worthwhile and useful.

What does this have to do with food? Good question. The culinary corollary is seen in what we disdainfully refer to as leftovers, but which I think should be called "tomorrow's muse for something new and wonderful." For example, yesterday's Potatoes Nicoise could become something great for breakfast or brunch - just add eggs. Last night's grilled potatoes could be transformed into excellent home fries (skillet potatoes) - just add diced yellow onion, diced red bell pepper and garlic. Leftover pesto from your Italian-themed dinner - just add eggs. By now you've obviously noticed my breakfast/brunch theme. I like to make it interesting. But the point is, that food not used yesterday can be repurposed for something excellent today. This is just a variant on the pantry principle only you've already done some of the prep work, which leads to my next point - that excellent results are achievable with little effort. High-yield! These are just a few examples. So the next time you want something interesting but you are not feeling inspired, just look at your leftovers and prepare to be blown away with a new combination of flavors you've never thought of.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


The Gershwin brothers would probably not find the perversion of their great song to describe what could be considered as low-brow eats as very clever or appropriate but I think it works.  And you've got to love a place where the mascot is a swine pit master.  Last night I told my wife we were going to try someplace new when we went out.  We ended up on the west side of town and she said, "Let's try Famous Dave's." 

Having lived in south Texas for a year and a half, she has an appreciation for real Texas beef brisket.  I love pulled pork and, though I still haven't been able to forsake the convenience of my liquid propane grill for a charcoal grill or hardwood smoker, I have tried the occasional piece of pork shoulder known as the Boston butt several times.  We make great slaw and I love my barbecue sauce so we have had decent results.  In the future, however, I likely will not bother since I've found Famous Dave's.  Although I am a great grill man but not so skilled at making real cue, I am nonetheless, a bit snobbish about proteins and sauces.  Dave's blew us both away.  For what they are trying to be, I'd say it is the best around - meaning that in doing southern cue, they really do it well, compared to say Fazolis or even some slightly better establishments trying to be Italian but you know that they are really just playing at it.  The only other place that comes close to being what they are is, in my opinion, 5 Guys Burgers and Fries, who promises just that and delivers just that (and pretty darned tasty it is too).  

The sauces were variants of sweet, tangy, peppery smokiness with varying amount of heat - I mostly went with their Rich and Sassy but couldn't settle for just that so I also had a generous shot of Devil's Spit and Texas Pit.  The fries were great (nice and hot) and the help and the  management at Dave's were excellent. 

After an unbelievably good pork sandwich (even the buns were the perfect vehicle) and the Texas Manhandler, featuring beef brisket which my wife says rivals the real deal she experienced in the Lone Star state, we had a piece of pecan pie.  So good it was just plain filthy.  Filthy. Filthy. Filthy.  If you do not have any reservations about engaging in gustatory hedonism in spite of all you know about principles of good nutrition and self-preservation, you should check it out.  And even if you do know better, you should lower your standards and try it anyway.         

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Chessy Onion Quiche

This recipe was a game changer.  I first had this when a great neighbor and fellow foodie brought some over.  The next week, I went out and bought the book he got the recipe from; Weber's Big Book of Grilling by Jamie Purviance and Sandra S. McRae.  Not only could I make my own quiche now (it is the kind of recipe you get very specific and urgent cravings for), but many of the other recipes in it lead to a great kitchen evolution, especially as far as my spice cupboard was concerned.  A game changer!

For the Sauce
1 large red bell pepper
1/4 c. mayonnaise
3 Tbsp. crushed walnuts
2 tsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

For the Filling
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
1 c. finely chopped red onion
3 large eggs
3/4 c. heavy cream
1 1/2 c. grated Jarlsberg, Swiss or Gruyere cheese
3 Tbsp. finely chopped chives
1/4 tsp. Tabasco sauce
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

1 uncooked piecrust (9 inches)

The Method
Grill the bell pepper over direct medium heat until the skin is evenly charred on all sides, 10 to 12 minutes, turning every 3 to 5 minutes.  Remove the pepper from the grill and place in a paper bag; close tightly.  Let stand 10 to 15 minutes to steam off the skin.  Cut off the top and remove the seeds.  Coarsely chop the pepper and put in a food processor.  Add the remaining sauce ingredients and process until smooth.  Pour into a small serving bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

In a medium saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the red onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.  Transfer to a medium bowl and allow to cool for a few minutes.  In a small bowl whisk the eggs and cream together and add to the butter-onion mixture.  Add the remaining filling ingredients and mix thoroughly. 

Line a 9-inch metal pie tin with crust.  Pour the filling into the curst.  Grill over Direct Medium heat until the edges of the curst and the filling begin to turn golden brown, about 15 minutes, then continue cooking over Direct Low heat until the filling is no longer wet in the center, about 15 minutes more.  Remove from the grill and allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes.  Serve with the sauce.

Food for Thought
As expected, a grilling cook book actually directs you to prepare this on the grill.  Once you shut the lid, isn't a grill basically an oven.  Ideally, you have a built-in thermostat on your grill, then you can really do anything on it you could do in your oven.  I won't discuss direct and indirect heat here but give me a call or post an inquiry if you must know more.  I often do this just in the oven.  350 for 35 minutes +/- 5 does the trick, although I will usually jump start my piecrusts baking for 7-8 minutes sans filling first so that I don't end up with an undercooked pie crust, which can sometimes happen when dealing with a lot of wet ingredients in the filling, as in this recipe, or with other fillings like custards, fruit mixtures, etc.  Unless I'm doing a homemade apple pie, store bought piecrust works great for me (we like Marie Callendar's and Pilsbury).  This sauce if ridiculously good and could actually be eaten on a wide variety of savory concoctions.  Have fun with the leftovers (if you have any).