Saturday, November 26, 2016

Ribolitta: My New (Soup) Passion

This is, hands down, one of the best soup recipes I have ever tried. So good, in fact, that I made it two weeks in a row, with slight variations each time. I loved it, Mr. B loved it, Brilliant Daughter loved it, Butcher Son loved it. Now I just need to spread the word so everyone else can love it too!

Ribolitta is a hearty soup, a la Minestrone, but indigenous to the Tuscan region of Italy. There are different variations, with the original recipe using white beans, a variety of vegetables, and often day-old bread. This version isn’t that far off the track, but know that you can substitute different vegetables that you have on hand. While onions and carrots are standard, you can add cabbage, chard or kale, celery or fennel, zucchini, green beans, potatoes, tomatoes, turnips, parsnips or celery root. That’s the beauty of this soup—being able to use up what you have on hand or what is in season.

So, this recipe came from Sylvia Fountaine of the Feasting at Home blog. What drew me to it initially was the addition of an infused olive oil that gets drizzled on the soup when serving. And believe me, it adds a whole dimension to the soup that is out of this world – so do not, I repeat, do not skip that part of the recipe. It is crucial to the flavor. Really, it will make you swoon.

One curious thing about this soup is that there really were no herbs in it, which felt strange to me.  So, I couldn’t risk meddling a bit with the recipe. (Sorry, Sylvia!)

As I mentioned, I made two versions over the course of two weeks. The first version had pancetta, red wine, and a large heaping soup spoon of my homemade chimichurri. The second had homemade bacon, white wine, and a large heaping soup spoon of my homemade pesto. The recipe calls for pancetta, but Trader Joe’s was out of their diced pancetta for the second round, so I subbed in my bacon. I was out of the required white wine on the first go, so used the red, and both the chimichurri (rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley, red chili flakes, olive oil and balsamic) and the pesto (basil, garlic, olive oil, parmesan cheese) were my own additions.

While both versions were delicious, I prefer the first. I used bacon ends in the second version, which tend to be very smoky, so they add a different flavor altogether. I also think the red wine works better than the white, even though it’s only a half cup or so. (The recipe calls for a splash, but I went big!) And the chimichurri herbs were a better pairing. The only thing I might do differently is use chard, which I like better than kale. But that will next time week!

So give this hearty soup a chance. Please. You won’t be sorry.

Rosemary/Lemon/Garlic Oil
½ cup olive oil
peel from 1 large lemon
4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2 sprigs rosemary

Put all ingredients into a mason jar (or plastic container). Give it a good shake. Let it sit out on the counter all day, shaking periodically to help the ingredients infuse into the oil.

1/8 cup olive oil
¼ pound diced pancetta or bacon
2 medium onions, diced
3 large carrots, diced
5 ribs celery, diced
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 teaspoons salt
15-ounce can petite diced tomatoes
2 cans cannellini beans, drained, rinsed and roughly chopped
6 cups chopped lacinto kale (or chard)
½ cup red wine
1 heaping soup spoon chimichurri or pesto (this can be omitted)
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
½ chopped Italian parsley
Grated parmesan

In large Dutch oven or soup pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and pancetta and sauté for 6-8 minutes.

Lower heat to medium-low and add carrots, celery, garlic, salt, pepper, and red chili flakes. Cook for an additional 7-9 minutes, until vegetables are tender.

Add canned tomatoes, kale, wine, and chimichurri or pesto. Continue sautéing for 7-8 minutes. Then add in the broth and the beans. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down and cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in parsley.

To serve, ladle soup into the bowl, sprinkle with parmesan and then drizzle with the infused olive oil (be generous here!).

NOTE: This goes great with some nice crusty bread. Try this 5 Minute Artisan Bread recipe.

Serves: 6-8

Monday, November 07, 2016

Fall Breakfast: Pumpkin Streusel Muffins

Fall has definitely arrived and with Halloween in the past and Thanksgiving on the horizon, I am overjoyed to have an abundance of pumpkins. We love the taste of pumpkin, in breakfast, soups, curries, and desserts. It’s actually quite versatile. And I always make sure to buy plenty right before or after Halloween, as most stores take them out of rotation and they can be hard to find. I also stock up on several cans of pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling), for quick muffins and scones.

I had a yen for pumpkin muffins on Sunday and found this easy and delicious recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction blog. I had everything in stock—most of which are pantry and refrigerator staples—and whipped these up in 10 minutes. Yes, it takes longer than a box mix, but it’s quicker than going to the bakery. And I guarantee that you will love them. Really.

While the recipe itself looks long and complicated at first glance, it really isn’t. You mix the dry ingredients in one bowl, wet in another, and them combine the two. Scoop into your prepared muffin tin, whip up the streusel and stick them in the oven. Now, know that they are perfectly fine this way and there is really no need for the maple drizzle, but I wanted to be true to the recipe (with one small change—just can’t help myself!).

So grab a can of pumpkin or cook down those uncut pumpkins and make a batch, you won’t be sorry and your family will love you forever.

And if you are thinking about Thanksgiving, I have the best pumpkin pie recipe.  It was gifted to me by a friend at work, her grandmother’s recipe. Simple, made in a blender, you’ll never make pumpkin pie any other way.  See the recipe here.

Happy Fall!

Pumpkin Streusel Muffins

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon each allspice, clove, ginger and nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 ½ cups pumpkin puree
2 large eggs, room temperature
¼ cup milk (cow, almond, soy, or other)

Crumb Topping
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon each allspice, clove, ginger and nutmeg
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Maple Drizzle (optional)
1 ½ cups confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons milk (cow, almond, soy, or other)

Preheat oven to 425°F. Line muffin tins with liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and salt together until combined.

In a large bowl, whisk the oil, granulated sugar, brown sugar, pumpkin puree, eggs and milk together until combined. Pour the dry ingredients in, then fold everything together gently just until combined and no flour pockets remain.

Spoon the batter into liners, filling them two-thirds.

To make the streusel, whisk the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and pumpkin pie spice together until combined. Stir in the melted butter until crumbs form. Spoon crumbs evenly on top of the batter and gently press them down into the batter so they're snug.

Bake for 5 minutes at 425° , then reduce the oven temperature to 350°. Bake for an additional 16-17 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the muffins to cool for 10 minutes in the muffin pan as you make the drizzle.

To make the drizzle, combine all of the icing ingredients together until smooth. Drizzle over muffins and serve.

Yield: 18 muffins

Monday, October 03, 2016

Fall Favorite: Minestrone Soup

While I am a summer girl at heart, the heat makes it difficult to do too much in my kitchen, so I am always happy when fall rolls around so I can get back to my happy place. Every weekend there is a bubbling pot of soup on the stove, awaiting distribution to my children.

This week I chose to make some minestrone. I still have veggies in the garden, so it is the perfect way to use them before they die out. While most traditional recipes are strictly vegetarian, I like to add a bit of my home-cured bacon. Whenever I smoke a batch, I cut off the ends of each slab and freeze them in soup-sized portions. They have a deep smoky flavor and add such a wonderful dimension to soups. But feel free to omit the bacon, and you can have a good vegetarian or vegan option. You can even substitute a wheat-free pasta to get a gluten-free version!

So head to the store, the farmer’s market, or your own garden and make a batch of this yummy and hearty soup. It’s quick to make and I had enough for 10 servings – plenty to share or freeze for later use.

1/2 lb. bacon ends, diced
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 stalks celery, diced
3 carrots, diced
1/3 pound green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 heaping tablespoons pesto
salt & pepper, to taste
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 bunch chard or kale, thinly sliced
1 zucchini, diced
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup elbow or shell pasta
Optional: grated parmesan cheese, for garnish

In a stockpot over medium-low heat, add your bacon ends and begin cooking. When halfway done, add chopped onion and cook until bacon is almost crispy. Add garlic, celery and carrot and cook for another few minutes.

Add tomatoes, broth, and pesto to the pot and bring to a boil. Add green beans, chard/kale, and zucchini and cook until your vegetables are al dente. Add in the kidney beans and pasta and cook for 10 minutes until pasta and all vegetables are tender.

Ladle into bowls and serve with parmesan cheese.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Staving off My Sweet Tooth: Healthy(er) Peanut Butter Cups

You may have noticed that a significant number of recipes on this blog are of the sugar variety. I definitely have a sweet tooth. I like my muffins, coffeecakes, cookies, tortes, cupcakes…even candied bacon!

I’ve never been a junk food addict. I don’t down Coke every day, rarely eat at a fast food restaurant, don’t decimate a bag of chips in one sitting (like Mr. B), and rarely buy packaged or prepared cookies, candy, cakes or ice cream.

But I do bake. A lot. Unfortunately, as the years creep up on me, I just can’t have those temptations around. I still bake for Sunday dinners when the family is here, for special occasions, for friends. It’s just not enough to satisfy my sweet tooth.

So what’s a girl to do???

I’ve been hunting around for something that is small in size, easy to prepare and that has less guilt attached to it (healthier), while at the same time able to provide me a satisfying sweet treat.

I found a recipe online for a paleo Reese’s Cup. It’s basically a nut butter cup with dark chocolate on top. I’ve been experimenting with the base recipe for a few weeks now, adding and subtracting unsweetened shredded coconut, using all almond butter, using a mix of almond and peanut butters, trying different chocolates, even using different pans.

I’ve finally hit upon the right combination of ingredients—and the right vessel to put them in—and it’s time to share the recipe with you.

I have to say that I really love these. I keep them in the freezer and take one out when I am in need of a sugar fix, usually at 2 or 3 in the afternoon and around 8 or 9 at night. They weigh in at under 100 calories a piece but also have some protein, given the quantity of nut butters. They are good for a paleo diet, low-carb diet, Atkins, etc. They are also gluten free and, if you use the right chocolate, dairy free.

I particularly like this combination of ingredients and have adjusted the amounts so that when frozen, the nut base doesn’t get all soft and gooey while the chocolate is harder than a rock. I found the best peanut/almond butter combo to be Trader Joe’s Creamy Almond Butter and Jif Extra Chunky Peanut Butter. For the top, I just use a thin layer of chocolate—Nestle Dark Chocolate Morsels are great—but you can go thicker if you want. You can also omit the coconut, as it acts more as a sweetener and to add some bulk to the candy.

Note: I originally used mini muffin pans for these. No grease necessary, just fill and freeze and then pop them out as needed. Now I use silicone mini muffin cup molds. I place them on a tray, fill and freeze. Once frozen, I put them in a Ziploc in the freezer. They pop out really easy and I get about 2 dozen this way. They are slightly smaller than the muffin pan I was using, and the perfect size for me.

Nut Butter and Chocolate Treats

½ cup smooth almond butter
½ cup peanut butter, smooth or chunky
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon honey
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut, minced
2/3 cup dark chocolate chips (you can also chop up bar chocolate)
1 teaspoon coconut oil

Put your nut butters, coconut oil and honey in a glass bowl or measuring cup and microwave until mixable, about 30-45 seconds. Stir or whisk until the mixture is creamy. Add minced coconut and stir to incorporate.

Using a small ice cream scoop, ladle or tablespoon, fill your mini muffin cups about 2/3 full. Gently bang your muffin pan or tray on the counter to level the ingredients.

Place the chocolate and teaspoon of coconut oil in a glass measuring cup and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir and microwave
a second time for about 20-30 seconds. Stir until the mixture is creamy.

Pour the mixture on top of the nut cups, starting at the outside edge and moving in. When done, gently bang the pan or tray again to even out the chocolate.

Yield: 2 dozen