The recipes on this blog are a combination of things I've learned over the years and meals inherited through generations of adoration for good food. They are a cherished property, so please be good to them.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

17 Bean and Barley Soup

Winter makes me want to hibernate, and part of that is falling in love with soups. I love bean soups and find them to be the easiest to do, with the least amount of fuss. This recipe makes enough for at least 6 servings (if not more) but can be halved or quartered easily. I like to make the full recipe and freeze for a later dinner.

If you purchase Parmesan that's fresh you should save your rinds (once you've grated all you can!! ) and freeze them for when you make soups and stocks. Just scrape the labeling off (the part that gives you a clue if its authentic... you should see the words "Parmigiano-Reggiano" on the side of the cheese. ) and place into your soup or stock. This is an old family method, and I've seen many of the greats use this technique as well.

I found the 17 bean soup mix (which is really beans in a bag) from Trader Joe's, but you can find this in any grocery store. For this soup, like most others, I used a Mirepoix as the base. A Mirepoix is the French name for a combination of onions, celery and carrots. Mirepoix, either raw, roasted or sauteed with butter is the flavor base for a wide number of dishes such as stocks, soups, stews and sauces. Mirepoix is known as the Holy Trinity of French cuisine.

3 c 17 bean soup mix
1/3 lb of center cut bacon, diced (See Cooks Note below)
c each, onions, carrots and celery, or Mirepoix
1 28 oz can of diced tomato's
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp dried Italian herbs (I used a mix of oregano, basil and thyme)
2 tbsp salt and freshly ground pepper
1 leftover rind of Parmesan cheese, with the label scrapped off
2 tbsp olive oil
6 cups of quality vegetable broth or stock

Empty beans into a large pot and cover with cold water. Let beans soak over night.

The following day, drain the beans completely and give them a good rinse with cold water. In a large, heavy bottom soup pot or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Cook the bacon until crisp and remove from pan. (*** Cooks note: This can be omitted all together for my vegetarian friends... I just did it for some flavor boost!****) Add mirepoix and saute for about 7 minutes. Season with 1 tbsp salt and pepper, and add herbs and bay leaves. Saute another 2 minutes, and add beans. Cook the vegetable and bean mix for about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the broth and the Parmesan cheese rind, and simmer covered for about 2 hours.

Serve immediately with a piece of warm crusty bread, or freeze and enjoy on another day.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

America's Second Harvest- Free Download for a Good Cause

I never take for granted how lucky I am to live a relatively comfortable and fulfilled life. As I write about my culinary adventures, I become more aware of the increasing problem with hunger in the United States and worldwide. Hunger affects more than 35 million people in America today. It's a challenge that requires constant attention and support, and as a food company, Barilla is in a unique position to help raise awareness and money through projects like The Celebrity Italian Cookbook.

When you download a copy of The Celebrity Italian Table Cookbook, Barilla will donate $1, up to $100,000, to America's Second Harvest, a national charity that secures and distributes more than two billion pounds of food products annually.

You can learn about this amazing charity, here.

Do your part, and reap an instant reward, by going here, and downloading your cookbook!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Garlic Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb

For Valentines day we decided to have a quiet but special night at home. I decided to make something that I really love, but have never prepared myself before. I found a beautiful cut of lamb and couldn't resist this relatively easy but fancy dinner.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
2 tbsp minced fresh rosemary leaves
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 c Dijon mustard
1 1/2 c panko breadcrumbs
1 rack of lamb, "frenched"
(*** Cooks note: "Frenching" refers to scraping the meat off the tips of the bones. There should also be about 1/8th of an inch of fat on your lamb. ***)

Heat oven to 425*F.
Heat oil in a skillet, over med-high heat, until almost smoking. Season both sides of the lamb with salt and place fat side down onto the skillet. Sear the meat until brown. Turn the rack, rib side down and sear the other side. Continue browning all sides of the meat. Remove from pan and set aside.

In the same skillet, sauté garlic cloves with rosemary leaves for about 1 minute. Add breadcrumbs and turn heat down to low, stirring constantly to toast. Remove from heat when lightly toasted.

Distribute crumbs onto a plate for application to the rack. Spread the Dijon mustard on both sides of the lamb. Press the lamb into the crumb mixture and flip, making sure to create a crust on all sides of the meat. Place on foil covered roasting pan, rib side down, and roast in oven about 40-50 minutes, or until meat reached 160* F for medium doneness. (Cook to your desired preference).

Slice rack of lamb into individual chops and serve immediately.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Beer Bread

Bread is scary to me... I love eating it but I have little to no experience making it. I thought I'd attempt the easiest bread recipe around, and it really was the quickest baking experience I've had!
Beer bread is easy, requires very little ingredients, and can be made with whatever extras you have lying around your kitchen. I think this is best eaten right away, but the convenience of the preparation makes it an easy last minute idea.

Basic Beer Bread:
3 C all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder 1/2 tsp baking soda 2 tbsp honey
1 tsp salt 12 oz (1 bottle) room temperature beer 1 egg plus 2 tsp water, lightly beaten (for an egg wash)

(***Cooks note: For the first loaf I made, I used the basic recipe and added 1 tbsp garlic powder, and 1tsp each dried rosemary, oregano, basil and thyme for a Garlic Herb Beer Bread. The second loaf, was basic recipe topped with freshly shredded parmesan cheese.***)

Preheat oven to 350*F. Place dry ingredients in a bowl and mix with a fork. Add honey and beer and stir the mixture until the just mixed together. Pour into a greased loaf pan. Brush egg wash on top of loaf and place in oven for about 45-50 minutes. Serve warm.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Chocolate Cherry Merlot Brownies

There's something very classic about brownies and I thought they would make a great choice for Culinate's Death by Chocolate Contest. These brownies are so rich and intense, and the merlot soaked cherries surprise your every bight. Tested on friends and family, these brownies disappeared!

1 1/2 c dried cherries
1 c merlot wine
4 oz semi sweet chocolate
4 oz dark chocolate, 60% cocoa
1 1/3 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 c butter, room temperature
1 c sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350*F. Place cherries in a large bowl. Over medium high heat, warm merlot until just boiling. Pour wine over cherries, allowing them to steep, about 15 minutes. Drain cherries and discard wine.

Melting the chocolate:
Use a double boiler, or a bowl placed over a sauce pan with simmering water (what I did), to melt the chocolate. Stir chocolate as it melts, and keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't scorch. Chocolate should be smooth and creamy.

Using a mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat another minute. Add flour and salt and mix well for another minute. With the mixer running on low, add the cherries to the batter and mix until moderately incorporated. Fill a square 9 in baking dish with batter and bake in oven for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the brownies, comes out clean.

Cut into squares and prepare yourself for chocolate heaven.