Sunday, January 29, 2017

Kale & Potato Soup with Garlic Sausage

At the risk of sounding like I'm a paid advertiser for Aidells sausage (I'm not), I am sharing another recipe (the third in less than a month) featuring their Roasted Garlic and Gruyère Sausage.  I have just recently discovered this sausage, and I admit to being a great fan.  At the end of December I featured it in a hearty green salad with roasted potatoes, hard cooked eggs and haricots verts.  Then, I started the New Year with a pizza...with squash and apples...and the aforementioned sausage.  Today, I'm sharing a recipe for one of my favorite soups (Alice Waters' Kale & Potato Soup), made even better by the addition of said sausage.

I have always made this soup pretty much as written in The Art of Simple Food.  The original is nothing more than a rich, sweet onion and garlic scented chicken broth filled with potatoes and curly kale.  But as always, the apparent simplicity is deceptive.  I still remember the first time I made the soup.  I was feeling a bit under the weather on a cold and dreary winter day and the soup tasted so very good.  More than that though, as I ate, it made me feel truly nourished...   I remember just wanting to bury my face in the bowl.  I didn't, of course....but it really was that good.

I made it for the first time a few weeks ago with her optional addition of sausage.  At the time, I think my goal was just to make the soup a bit more substantial....and I happened to have some of the Aidells sausage on hand.  I was surprised by how delighted I was with the result—I really didn't think the soup could be any better.  Clearly I was wrong.  I imagine I'll make it again someday without the addition of the sausage, but for the foreseeable future...probably not.

Kale & Potato Soup with Garlic Sausage

1/4 c. Extra Virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
6 to 8 oz. garlic sausage
2 medium onions (about 12 oz.), thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled & chopped
1 pound Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced cross-wise 1/4-inch thick
1 large bunch kale (about 8 oz.), stemmed, washed thoroughly and coarsely chopped
Salt & freshly ground
6 cups chicken stock
Freshly grated Parmesan

In a heavy soup pot set over medium heat, warm a thin film of the olive oil. Add the sausage and brown.  Lift out and add the remaining olive oil.  Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, tender, and slightly browned—about 12 to 15 minutes.  

Add the garlic and continue to cook until fragrant—1 or 2 minutes.  Add the kale along with a generous pinch of salt and using a tongs, turn to coat.  Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes—the kale will collapse and will begin to soften.  

Uncover and add the potatoes along with another pinch of salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 or 3 minutes (so that the potatoes will begin to give up some starch).  Pour in the stock.  Raise the heat, bring to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, or until the kale and potatoes are tender. 

While the soup simmers, slice the sausage in 1/4-inch thick rounds.  Add to the soup for the last ten minutes of cooking.  Taste the soup and add more salt if necessary.  Serve hot and garnish each serving with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of cheese.

Makes 2 quarts soup.

  • Use a precooked sausage such as Kielbasa, Linguiça or Aidells Roasted Garlic & Gruyère Chicken Sausage (my favorite) 
  • Waters' original version did not include sausage. You may leave it out and just begin by cooking the onions in all of the oil. 
  • You may use any variety of kale that you prefer. Waters' original recipe was for curly kale. I prefer Tuscan. 
  • Add 1 1/2 cups cooked white beans with the sausage for a more substantial soup. If using canned, rinse them before adding. If freshly cooked, add them with their cooking liquid. If using canned, you may need to add more broth or water. 

(Recipe adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters)  

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Chocolate Shortbread Sandwich Cookies with Vanilla Buttercream Filling

Yes.  The title of today's post is code for Oreos.  I don't think Nabisco appreciates it when people use their word for these cookies....  Hence, the many euphemisms employed by bakers all over the country:  Thomas Keller's "TKOs", Emily Luchetti's "Stareos" (with the cookies cut in the shape of a star), and the many, many versions (King Arthur Flour and The New York Times, just to name two)  that go by the name "Faux-reos".   I'm sure there are others.  It is a testament to the beloved status of this childhood, processed food favorite that revered chefs (like Keller and Luchetti) have come up with their own scratch-made, adult versions.

My recipe is similar to that of Keller and Luchetti (as well as a few others) in that I make a shortbread-style cookie for the chocolate wafer portion.  Because it lacks egg and chemical leaveners (which are included in a lot of the other versions I ran across), classic shortbread doesn't puff much—and more importantly, doesn't spread at all—during the baking process.  It bakes into a tender, slightly crisp cookie...just like the chocolate wafer of a real Oreo. 

Other than nostalgia, the lasting appeal of the Oreo lies I think, in the contrast between the deep—and slightly bitter—chocolate flavor of the cookie and the sweet—almost too sweet—cream filling.  To get this contrast in my homemade version I used a fairly high percentage of cocoa (replacing 25 % of the weight of the flour) in one of my favorite plain shortbread recipes.  I increased the sugar only a small amount so as to preserve the punch of the cocoa flavor.  The resulting cookie had the exact deep, sharp, cocoa profile I was looking for.  It contrasted perfectly with the traditional, sweet, American-style buttercream frosting that I used for the filling. 

I loved Oreos when I was a kid.  My mother didn't tend to purchase prepared sweets (or processed foods in general...).  But I managed to get my Oreo fix at my paternal grandparents' home.  There, they always had a stash in their "Corn King" pottery cookie jar.  (Apparently they were my Grandfather's favorite cookie for his workday boxed lunch.)  Whenever I visited, I was allowed to indulge pretty much to my heart's content.   My hand was in and out of that cookie jar far more often than was good for me.  And now, as I think about it, those Oreos are probably responsible for sowing the seeds of not only my sugar habit, but also my coffee habit.  My grandmother and her sister liked to dunk their Oreos in their coffee.  Since it seemed so grown up, I wanted to do it too (and they of course let me...).

These days I prefer my Oreos with ice cream.  And I am not alone in this.  When I served my homemade version to my family last weekend I saw more than one person drop their cookies right into their bowl of ice cream, breaking the cookies into pieces with their spoons as they dug in.  But if you don't have ice cream, I am happy to report that these cookies will make a fine accompaniment to your afternoon cup of coffee or tea.  Whether you dunk them or not is entirely up to you.

Chocolate Shortbread Sandwich Cookies with Vanilla Buttercream Filling 

Chocolate Dough:
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature (it should be firm, but not rock hard)
4 oz. (1/2 c. plus 1 T.) sugar
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1/4 t. salt
210 g. (1 3/4 c.) all-purpose flour
70 g. (3/4 c. plus 1 T.) Dutch-process cocoa powder
Sugar for sprinkling, optional

 Vanilla Buttercream Filling:
2 oz. (4 T.) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 lb. (2 c.) powdered sugar
1/2 t. Vanilla
1 1/2 to 2 T. Milk, plus more as needed

Make the chocolate wafer cookies:  Whisk together the flour, cocoa and salt.  Set aside. 

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, briefly cream the butter and sugar (just to combine).  Beat in the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together.  The dough should be stiff and firm.  If it is not, chill.   

On a lightly floured surface, roll about a third of the dough out into a 1/8-inch thickness.  Cut with a 2-inch round (smooth or scalloped edge) cookie cutter and transfer the cookies to a parchment-lined baking sheet. 

(The cookies do not spread, so they can be placed within a half inch or so of each should be able to get 24 to 30 on a sheet.) Gather the scraps and combine with half the remaining dough, rolling and cutting as before.  Repeat the process with the remaining dough and scraps.  Reroll the last of the scraps once.

If you like, sprinkle the cookies with a little sugar.  Bake the cookies in a 325° oven until set...about 17 minutes or so (start checking at 15).  Let cool for a minute or two on the sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.  You should have about 5 to 5 1/2 dozen chocolate wafers.

Make the filling:  Place the butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and 1 1/2 T. of milk in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on low until the ingredients come together.  Increase the speed to high and beat for five minutes—or until very light and fluffy.  If the cream seems at all stiff, beat in another 1 to 1 1/2 t. of milk. 

Make the sandwich cookies:  Spread half of the cookies out on your work surface with the bottom of the cookie facing up.  Fill a piping bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip with the cream filling.  Pipe a flat spiral of the cream on half of the cookie wafers (the ones with the bottoms facing up), starting at the outside edge.  Place the unfrosted cookie wafers (bottom facing down) on top of the frosted ones, pressing very lightly so that the filling comes out to the edge.  You should have about 30 sandwich cookies.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Tunisian Spiced Lamb Meatballs

We had David Tanis's Tunisian Meatballs for dinner the other night.  Tanis is one of my favorite chefs...and I love the cookbook in which this recipe is found...but for some reason I hadn't made them in a while.  Since I am teaching them in an upcoming class, I thought it would be a good idea to make them again.  It isn't as if I need a refresher course in cooking these meatballs, but having the recent tactile experience of making something always reminds me of things I want to say during a class.  As I made them, I was struck anew with what a fantastic recipe this is for meatballs.

I appreciate this recipe for many reasons:   The balance of spices is just right...  gently evocative of another place.  They are not too hot...nor are they too mild.   And the saffron and tomato cooking broth is subtle, fragrant and flavorful.  The dish is particularly nice with couscous (one of my favorite side dishes). But more than anything else, I love this recipe because it contains the bones of a great basic recipe for meatballs—it gets the balance of ground meat to egg to bread to salt just right.  Too much bread and a meatball will be mealy and soft rather than meaty.  Too little and the meatballs will be dry...and possibly hard.  Too much egg and they will be rubbery...  not enough and they will have a tendency to fall apart.  If you have tried a lot of recipes for meatballs, you know that getting the balance right is not a given.  Since happening upon this recipe a few years ago, I have used the ratios in this recipe to "repair" a couple of recipes that have good flavor, but inconsistent textural results. 

I have always made this particular recipe with lamb, but I am certain they would be delicious made with beef.  Just make sure that you are using a meat that is about twenty percent fat.  A cut with less fat will tend to produce dry, hard meatballs.  If this amount of fat seems decadent to you, consider this dish (or any meatball dish) an occasional splurge where the extra fat is totally worth the tender, juicy, flavorful result.

As you look at the recipe, don't be put off by the length of the ingredient list.  As Tanis points out, you can organize your work by making the sauce and/or the meat mixture ahead.  And even if you choose to make all the components and finish the dish in one session, once you have all of the spices measured out...and the herbs chopped...the meat mixture is very quickly and easily put together.   Furthermore, as with almost every recipe for meatballs in sauce, these freeze beautifully.  If you take the time to make a large batch, you can freeze it in portion-sized packets.  Then, on some future night when you are tired and busy, you will be able to enjoy the luxury of a slightly labor intensive dish...without having to expend any labor at all.

Tunisian Meatballs

The Sauce:
2 T. olive oil
1 1/2 c. finely diced onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 T. tomato paste
1 inch piece cinnamon stick
Large pinch saffron, crumbled
Salt and pepper
3 c. chicken broth, vegetable broth or water

The Meatballs:
1 1/2 c. cubed day-old firm white bread
1 c. milk
1 lb. ground lamb (or beef chuck)
1 large egg, beaten
1 t. kosher salt, divided
4 garlic cloves, smashed to a purée with some of the salt
1/4 t. black pepper
2 t. paprika
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. turmeric
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/4 t. cayenne
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. ground coriander
1/8 t. grated nutmeg
2 T. minced parsley
2 T. minced cilantro
2 T. finely chopped scallion, white and pale green portions
All-purpose flour, for dusting
Olive oil or vegetable oil
Chiffonade parsley and cilantro for garnish
Thinly sliced scallions (green portion only) for garnish

To make the sauce, heat the oil over medium-high heat in a wide, heavy bottomed saucepan. Add onion and cook without browning until softened, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste, cinnamon stick and saffron, and stir well to incorporate. Season generously with salt and pepper, and allow to sizzle for 1 minute more. Add broth, bring to a simmer, and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. The sauce may be made up to a day in advance and refrigerated.

To make the meatballs, put bread cubes and milk in a small bowl and let the bread soak until softened, about 5 minutes, then squeeze dry and transfer to a medium bowl.

Add the ground meat to the bread and mix gently with your hands, then add the egg, garlic, salt, pepper, paprika, ginger, turmeric, cumin, cayenne, cloves, coriander and nutmeg. Mix well with hands to distribute seasoning. Add the parsley, cilantro and scallion, and knead for a minute. The mix may be prepared up to a day in advance and refrigerated. 

With your hands, roll mixture into small balls about the size of a quarter. Dust lightly with flour.

Heat a quarter-inch of oil in a wide heavy skillet over medium-high heat. 

Fry meatballs, turning once, until barely browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a wire rack set over a tray lined with a double layer of paper towels.

Add the meatballs to the sauce, bring to a simmer over medium heat cover and cook for about 20 minutes, until the sauce has thickened slightly and the meatballs are tender. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning, adding salt or cayenne as necessary. 

Garnish meatballs with remaining parsley, cilantro and scallion. Serve with couscous or rice. Serves 4 to 6.

(Recipe adapted from One Good Dish by David Tanis)

  • I have made this recipe and formed very small meatballs (about 10 to 11 grams each and about the size of a quarter as Tanis directs) and also in a slightly larger size (about 15 grams each) without any reduction in quality or finesse (although, I prefer the smaller ones). If made into the very small size you will have about 60 meatballs. You will have 40 to 45 in the larger size. 
  • Both the sauce and the meatball mixture can be made a day ahead. Store covered in the refrigerator. 
  • As mentioned in the text, the ratios of this recipe produce a particularly fine meatball.  You can use these ratios to improvise your own meatball recipe...or repair a recipe that has nice flavors, but in which the texture of the meatball leaves something to be desired.  For every pound of meat, use 1 egg, 1 t. kosher salt, and 1 1/2 cups cubed firm white bread (soaked in milk and squeezed dry).

Friday, January 6, 2017

Winter Squash, Apple & Sausage Pizza

My first thought as we ate the pizza I made for dinner the other night was that it was really good and maybe I should post it to my blog.  My second thought was that even though it was good, it was just a simple pizza...and I had posted other pizzas...and well, maybe I would just let it pass.  Then I thought about the comment I made in my final post of 2016 about sharing more of the simple and basic dishes that appear on my table day in and day out...even if they aren't unusual or "chef-y".  And suddenly this simple pizza seemed like a good way to kick off the year.

Since Christmas, I have not been as focused as I usually am on food.  I have had a little extra time off and have been trying to use that time to attend to things that have fallen by the wayside for too long.  Dinners have been simple, hurried, pantry affairs almost every night.  I make a trip to the store occasionally to make sure I have some basics (seasonal vegetables, fruit, bacon/sausage/ham, grains/pastas, canned tomatoes/beans, eggs/dairy/cheese) and wing it from there to make a pasta, a soup, a salad, a pizza.....  

If pizzas aren't on your list of easy, weeknight meals, they should be.  Because they can be topped with almost any cooked ingredient, they are a great way to use up odds and ends of vegetables and cheeses.  If you have foods on hand that you like to eat, odds are you can come up with a flavorful combination for a pizza.  Just make your dough (more on that in a minute), choose a sauce (plain or seasoned olive oil, tomato sauce, reduced cream, seasoned ricotta...even a vegetable purée) and prepare/cook your toppings while the oven heats.

If you think your oven won't produce a good pizza, think again.  If you have a pizza stone and your oven will hold a temperature of 500° F, your oven is capable of producing a respectable pizza.  If you don't have a stone, you should take some of your holiday gift money (doesn't everyone get gift certificates these days?) and buy one.  It is a very small investment...and one that you won't regret.  While you're at it, pick up a peel (not strictly necessary—I made good pizza for years without one—but using one will produce a superior crust).  Then, stop at the grocery store on the way home and buy a bag of semolina flour (you can of course dust your peel with flour...but a semolina dusted peel is pretty much stick proof).  With practice you will be making consistently delicious pizzas in no time.

As for the dough....if you know how to use your food processor, you can make delicious pizza dough.  I have been making pizza dough for years the old fashioned way—mixing and kneading by hand.  But a couple of years ago I started to make it in the food processor because it's just so quick and easy.  I still occasionally make it by hand....but there is really no reason to other than that I occasionally want to slow down and enjoy the process of kneading.  (I give directions for both methods in the recipe.)  If you are still dubious about making your own, you can probably find a grocery store that sells freshly made dough in their prepared foods department.  I know that Whole Foods does this, and I'm sure there are others.

As I said, last night's pizza was particularly good.  And since it included ingredients that I always have on hand during the fall and winter months (a chunk of winter squash...a Pink Lady apple...shallots...sausage...Dubliner cheese....), I know I will be making it again.  I hope you will make it too...or better yet, come up with a new favorite of your own using the ingredients you like to keep on hand.

Winter Squash, Apple & Sausage Pizza

10 to 12 oz. butternut squash (half of a small to medium squash), peeled, seeded and cut in a 1/2-inch dice (you should have a scant 2 cups)
1 small sweet-tart apple (I like Pink Lady), peeled and cut in a half inch dice (about 1 cup)
Olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper
1 medium shallot, peeled and thinly sliced using a mandolin
pinch of pepper flakes
1/ 2 t. minced rosemary
1 3 to 4 oz. link cooked sausage (see note), halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick cross-wise on a slight diagonal
1 ball of pizza dough (see below), rested
5 oz. Dubliner cheese (see note), coarsely grated

Place the squash and apples in a bowl and drizzle with just enough olive oil to coat.  Season with salt and pepper and toss well.  Transfer to a small baking sheet (a quarter sheet pan is perfect) and roast in a preheated 450° oven until tender and beginning to brown—about 20 to 25 minutes.

When the vegetables are done roasting, scatter the shallots, rosemary, pepper flakes and sausage over and toss to combine.  Increase the oven temperature to 500°.

Build the pizza: On a lightly floured surface, roll or stretch the dough out into a 12-inch circle. Transfer the dough to a pizza pan, baking sheet or pizza peel that has been dusted with semolina (or flour...or cornmeal).  Spread a thin layer of oil over the crust. Scatter with half of the cheese, followed by the topping mixture, followed by the remaining cheese

If using a pizza pan or baking sheet, place the pizza in the pan on a pre-heated pizza stone in a pre-heated 500° oven. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is bubbling, about 12 to 15 minutes. To insure a crisp crust, slide the pizza off of the pan and directly onto the pizza stone as soon as the crust is set (after 4 or 5 minutes). 

If using a peel, slide the pizza directly onto the preheated baking stone. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is bubbling—about 8 to 10 minutes. 

When the pizza is done, transfer to a cutting board and cut into wedges and serve.

  • I like Aidells Roasted Garlic & Gruyère Smoked Chicken Sausage, but any favorite cooked sausage that will go with the squash and apples would be fine. Kielbasa would be excellent. You could also cook a fresh Italian sausage link and cut it in a similar fashion. 
  • I love the nutty taste of Dubliner and I always have it on hand. It is a great snacking and melting cheese. It is particularly good with the squash and apples on this pizza...but there are other cheeses that would work well. A good, sharp Cheddar...Fontina...low-moisture Mozzarella...etc. 

Pizza Dough

1/2 cup warm water (100º-110º)

1 1/8 t. (1/2 package) active dry yeast

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 T. olive oil

1/2 t. salt


Combine the water, yeast, and 3/4 cup of the flour in a large bowl. Whisk until smooth. Add the oil, salt and another half cup of the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough that holds its shape. Sprinkle some of the remaining quarter cup of flour on a smooth surface. Scrape the dough out of the bowl and sprinkle with a bit more flour. Knead the dough, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, until the dough is smooth and springs back when pressed lightly with a finger—about 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size—about 1 hour. Punch down the dough. At this point you may use the dough immediately or cover the bowl again with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 12 to 24 hours. Pull the dough out of the refrigerator to let it warm up a bit, about an hour before baking the pizza.


When ready to make the pizza, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a ball. Cover with a towel and let rest for 10 to 20 minutes. The dough is now ready to be shaped, topped and baked.


(Crust adapted from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins)


Food Processor Method:  Place the water and yeast in a small bowl and let sit until the yeast has dissolved.  Place 1 1/4 cups plus 2 T. of the flour and salt in the food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to blend.  Add the oil and yeast/water mixture and pulse until the dough is homogenous.  Begin to run the mixture in long pulses until the dough is smooth and elastic—it shouldn't take more than a minute.  If the dough seems wet and sticky, add some of the remaining 2 T. of flour a bit at a time, pulsing after each addition.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and give it a few kneads by hand.

Variation for a Whole Wheat Crust: Instead of unbleached all-purpose flour, use 3/4 c. bread flour and 1/2 to 3/4 c. whole wheat flour (any whole wheat flour will work, but I like “white” whole wheat flour).