Bruschetta Tuesday, Jul 20 2010 

During the oppressive heat of the summer months, most food bloggers take solace in the fact that the stellar produce at this time of year makes up for the sweaty, blistering temperatures.  The peaches, the blueberries, the sweet Jersey corn…farmers markets are brimming with foods that require very little alteration to taste phenomenal.  This isn’t the winter, where the East Coast bemoans its abundance of squash and Brussels sprouts and dreams of the days when strawberries ripen.  Around this time of year, people are thrilled to leave their ovens off and let the fresh produce speak for itself.

Often, it’s the tomato that steals the spotlight.  But here’s a confession – I don’t like tomatoes, at least not raw ones. I don’t like the seedy, pulpy interior, and I don’t like the slick skin that holds it all together.  I don’t like large, fresh slices of the beefsteak variety on hamburgers, and I pick them out of salads, unceremoniously dropping them on Boyfriend’s plate more often than not.  He, of course, adores them – he wishes I liked them more.  And I want to like them, I really do, but if I can’t stomach them at the peak of their apparent deliciousness, I don’t think it’s in the cards for me.

Not to be outdone in the crazy department, though, I’ll eat them peeled and cooked into tomato sauce.  In fact, I love tomato sauce.  And salsa.  But not ketchup.  You know, just in case you thought I was predictable. As if I’d let that happen.

Spurred by this irrational love of saucy, cooked tomatoes mingled with onions and garlic, I decided to do bruschetta for dinner.  Simple, fairly healthy, and so quick to put together, I find this meal endlessly satisfying – the crunchy bread, the acidic bite of the tomatoes, the tangy cheese…what’s not to love?  Unless, of course, you don’t like tomatoes.

Bruschetta

3 tbsp olive oil, divided

4 thick slices of French bread

1 tbsp butter

1/8 cup diced onion

1 clove fresh garlic, minced

1-2 tbsp fresh chopped basil

3 whole, peeled plum tomatoes (Yes, I did get mine from a can.  In the midst of tomato season.  I’m a sad, sad creature.)

Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, to taste

Shredded Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and brush both sides of each piece of bread evenly with 2 of the 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Once your oven has reached 350, put the bread on a baking sheet in the middle of the oven and cook for 5 minutes on each side (or until the bread is crunchy and golden).  Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil and butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  When the oil has heated, add onions and cook until transluscent.  Add garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant but not browned.  Add tomatoes, basil, and spices, and cook until everything is heated through.  Taste and season accordingly as you go.

When the topping and bread are both finished, top each slice with a quarter of the tomato mixture and sprinkle with cheese.

Perbacco Saturday, Apr 10 2010 

Several weeks ago, I happened to be visiting Boyfriend in Boston during the city’s Winter Restaurant Week.  And what a week it was – our dinner at Brookline’s La Morra was quite possibly the best meal I’ve eaten in my life.  Four delicious courses and a wine flight later, Boyfriend and I found ourselves in a food-induced haze of happiness.  Now, you’ll have to forgive the lack of photos and/or posting about that meal, as I was far too caught up in our beautiful little date to consider snapping a photo of my steak, which was, by the way, melt-in-your-mouth, perfectly cooked, utter bliss swimming in a sea of chianti-laced sauce.  Swoon.

In an attempt to replicate the experience, we met in New York on Thursday for dinner at Perbacco, before a night of exploring the bar scene in and around the East Village.  We I chose the restaurant’s specifically because of its mention in this New York Times article.  Perbacco was, and I mean this in the best way, not what I had expected.  First, the restaurant is not nestled on a quiet side street and staffed by white-aproned waiters.  Rather, it’s planted right in the midst of the hustle and bustle, and its waiters hover outside, enthusiastically greeting passers-by.  Its menu is structured as most Italian restaurants’ are – extensive wine list, antipastas, soups and salads, primi and secondi, and, finally, dolce.  Boyfriend and I opted to split Sicilian rice balls, which were fried crisp on the outside, and filled with a warm mix of melting mozzarella and white rice.  Along side a smooth tomato sauce, they were a delicious start to the meal (though I did wish for a bit of a kick with the tomato sauce).  For the main dish, Boyfriend opted for salmon and I chose the beef tenderloin.  Both were fantastic – the pine nut sauce, accompanied by shallots, mushrooms, and chestnuts, that lay under my steak was creamy, rich, and perfectly seasoned; Boyfriend and I sopped every last bit of it up with soft, Italian bread.

Full and satisfied, we opted out of dessert and strolled through the East Village enjoying the unseasonably warm weather.  Amongst the bustling excitement of the city, on our way to one of our favorite bars, we happily declared our date a success.  And thanked Frank Bruni for his wonderful recommendation.

Cannoli Cake Monday, Mar 8 2010 

When we went to Italy nearly a year ago, I was looking forward to a lot of things: gelato, wine, pasta, cheese, bread…you get the idea.  Brother, on the other hand, was decidedly more focused – he only wanted cannoli.  That’s it.  I dragged my family through almost every food store we walked by in my quest to bring as much Italy back to Boyfriend as I possibly could, but Brother? Brother searched every single bakery we happened upon because, honestly, the kid could not find cannoli anywhere.  Nowhere!  Not in Venice, not in Florence, and not in Rome.  And if you asked him today how his trip to Italy was last year, the answer might still be, even after all this time, that it would’ve been better if he could have found some freaking cannoli.

I have no idea where the fascination with cannoli came from, and I didn’t know it existed until we were traipsing through the streets of Venice in search of a bakery that made them.  But the kid knows what he likes, and his dessert tastes have always differed markedly from my own.  On my birthday, it’s chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate, with a side of cheesecake thrown in for good measure – the sweeter and more decadent, the better (since we all know that calories don’t count on your birthday).  On Brother’s birthday, there is always, always carrot cake.  Carrot cake!  Now, my mom makes a banging carrot cake, and it’s always incredibly delicious, but on my birthday, I’d rather go big or go home.

So when I decided to make an extra cake for Brother’s 17th birthday yesterday (because one cake is just never enough in my family), I went big.  I picked the most unnecessarily large, complex, and involved cake I could find expressly because it involved, you guessed it, cannoli.

I have a new found love of really big, beautiful layer cakes after making two of them in the last month or so.  It’s so gratifying to put all the pieces together after several hours of mixing, baking, and stirring and wind up with a beautiful, delicious creation.  Of course, there’s always that little voice of concern in the back of my head muttering about the fact that I can’t exactly taste it first to make sure it doesn’t suck, but so far that hasn’t been an issue.  Both cakes were a rousing success and I do believe that the monstrous cannoli cake won’t be my last layer cake.

Cannoli Cake

Adapted from Epicurious

I made several changes to this – most notably, I switched all of the almond flavorings for vanilla extract.  Not because I don’t like almond, but because I didn’t have either of those things, but I absolutely had vanilla. So in it went.  If you’re less lazy, I’m sure the almond would be delicious.  I also felt that the proportions were way off here. I wound up with way too much frosting and filling for the amount of cake I had.  I know that sounds ridiculous to say, seeing as how I had three full cake layers here, but it’s true.  Perhaps if you were to split each layer in half (to make six) and do almost a 1:1 ratio of filling to cake on each layer, you might use all the filling.  And obviously, more of the filling equals a taller cake, which means you use more frosting.  The frosting and cake were my personal favorite parts of the cake, and I could see using them elsewhere with a different filling.  But not for Brother’s birthday.  On Brother’s birthday, it has to be cannoli.

For the Cake:

1 ¾ cups sugar

¾ cup butter, softened

3 large eggs

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

¾ cup milk

Butter/cooking spray

3 tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and grease three 8-inch cake pans.  Set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl until pale yellow and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating after each egg is added.  Add vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, mix together salt, baking powder, baking soda, and flour.  Add one third of this mixture to the butter/sugar and beat until mixed.  Add half of the milk and beat. Repeat until all of the flour and milk have been added (you should start and end with the flour).  Pour the batter into the prepared pans (it’s going to be fairly thick).

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the center is set.  After removing from the oven, take the cakes out of their pans and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack.  Once the cakes are cool, poke them all over with a toothpick.  Mix vanilla extract with one tablespoon of water, then brush all three layers of cake with the mixture using a pastry brush.

If you’re making the cake more than a day in advance, wrap each layer individually in plastic wrap and freeze.

For the Filling:

2 lbs ricotta cheese

1 cup confectioners sugar

1 ½ tsp cinnamon

2 ½  tbsp vanilla extract

3 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 cup heavy cream

In a large mixing bowl, beat together all ingredients excepted cream.  In a smaller bowl, beat cream until stiff peaks form, then gently fold the cream into the ricotta mixture.  Cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to construct the cake.

For the Frosting:

4 tbsp butter, softened

3 tbsp milk

1 ¾ cups confectioners sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups heavy cream

Mix together butter, milk, sugar, and vanilla in a small bowl.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, beat cream until stiff peaks form.  Fold butter/sugar into whipped cream until combined.  Cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to construct the cake.

To Assemble:

1 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped

2 cannoli shells

Using a pastry bag or baggie with the corner cut out, pipe some of the filling into each cannoli shell.  Set aside.  Line the edges of your cake plate with waxed paper (cut four strips and lay them as close to the outside of the plate as possible while still allowing them to be partially under the cake).  Place one cake on the plate, cover with half of the filling (I didn’t use anywhere near half, but if it’ll fit, by all means do it).  Cover with another cake, then add the rest of the filling.  Place the last cake on top.  Frost the top and sides of the cake with the whipped cream frosting, then sprinkle the top with chopped chocolate.  Lay cannoli shells on top of the cake, pressing them into the icing slightly.

Refrigerate the cake until you’re ready to serve it – mine was fine overnight completely assembled.

Biscotti Friday, Feb 26 2010 

This post is a little late, I know, but so was my Valentine’s Day celebration.  See, two weeks ago, Boyfriend and I came to the realization that there’s a very, very good likelihood that our Valentine’s Day is just never going to happen on the same day as everyone else’s.  And for that, we have just one thing to blame: basketball.

Last year, before he quit and went back to grad school to get his Masters, Boyfriend was working at a sports arena.  You might be thinking to yourself That’s a pretty awesome job! and you might be right, had this arena housed a major league team or two.  Unfortunately, it was home primarily to a minor league hockey team that had, through a series of unfortunate ownership decisions, pretty much lost its fan base.  And needless to say, in the shadow of Philly, NYC, and AC, the arena also didn’t have a whole lot of luck landing great shows and concerts.  So Boyfriend was frequently stuck there for hours upon hours, in a suit, on the weekends, working whatever Disney on Ice show or outdated 80’s band was playing.  Such was the case on Valentine’s Day as well – only this time, the featured event was a high school basketball game.  Actually, scratch that – it was a high school basketball tournament; which meant that not only was it eating into my Valentine’s Day dinner aspirations, it was also lasting an entire weekend. And for being a sport I already hate pretty vehemently, basketball lost quite a lot of points that weekend, even though Boyfriend and I had already celebrated the week before, in anticipation of this situation.

This February 14th found us separated again, this time by an imminent NCAA basketball tournament consuming Boyfriend’s life up in Boston, and keeping me Boyfriend-less in New Jersey…a situation I remedied the following weekend by bribing asking him nicely to come home and go snowboarding with me for the weekend.  He agreed, because he knows better than to let basketball stand in the way of us being together.  Although, I’m sure the package of goodies I mailed up to him on February 12th didn’t hurt…

Vanilla Biscotti

Adapted (unrecognizabley) from All Recipes

These cookies taste exactly like sugar cookies, only crunchier.  They also travel extremely well, and earn you bonus points with your significant other…I’m just sayin’.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tbsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

3/4 cup sugar

5 tbsp butter, melted

1 egg

2 egg whites, separated

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1/2 tbsp orange zest

1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Mix flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together and set aside.  In a separate, large bowl, mix together butter, whole egg, one egg white, vanilla, and orange zest.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, then stir until combined.  Add hazelnuts and mix into batter.

Divide dough in half and shape each half into a log (about 12-14 inches long).  Place both logs on the baking sheet, allowing them a little room to rise.  Brush each with reserved egg white.  Bake until golden – about 30 minutes.  Cool on a rack.

Once cool, slice logs using a serrated knife and place (cut-side down) on the baking sheet.  Bake 10-12 minutes, then flip cookies over.  Bake another 8-10 minutes, until the cookies are completely crisp and golden brown (but not burnt).  Cool on a rack.

Red Wine Risotto Monday, Jan 18 2010 

After months of content, you’re probably aware that I’m not always so big on recipes (the exception being, of course, baked goods…I have no faith in my ability to create cake from scratch).  I have a tendency to sort of get an idea in my head, assume I know how to execute it (based on, well, nothing), and just…wing it.  Suffice it to say that this does not always lead to success.  Fortunately, sometimes I get lucky.

Such was the case with this risotto, which is possibly the ugliest thing I’ve made in recent memory, but also one of the most delicious.  I understand that this probably isn’t a risotto in the traditional sense – I made it with brown rice (which I love for its nutty chewiness) instead of white, and I’m sure that the liquid-to-rice ratio is not as it should be.  That said, it yielded a healthy dish that tastes anything but – creamy, decadent rice with the sharp bite of parmesan against the buttery background of slowly cooked onions and garlic.  And that, my friends, is the kind of nutritious meal I’d eat every single day of the week.

Red Wine Risotto

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp butter

1/2 small onion, diced

1/2 tsp garlic, minced

2-3 sprigs of thyme leaves, removed from stems

1 cup brown rice

1/4 cup bulgur

1/4 cup red wine

2 – 3 cups beef stock

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1/4-1/2 cup chopped (fresh or frozen) spinach

1/2 cup diced eggplant

Salt and pepper, to taste

Grated parmesan cheese, for garnish

In a skillet over medium heat, heat the oil and butter.  Add onion and garlic, and cook (stirring occasionally) until onions are translucent.  Add thyme and 1 cup beef broth, using a rubber spatula to deglaze the bottom of the pan.  Add brown rice and bulgur, and turn the heat to medium low.  Add red wine and eggplant.  Cook slowly, stirring constantly, and adding more broth as the mixture dries out.  When the rice is nearly cooked through, add the spinach and nuts to heat through.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve immediately, garnished with grated parmesan

Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter Sauce Tuesday, Nov 17 2009 

I knew this was going to happen it.  I knew it!! I resisted the urge to try out the brown butter thing for years because I knew it would become an instant obsession.  And oh, it was.

 

The cake was one thing – I don’t have the time, energy, inclination, or metabolism to bake that kind of elaborate cake every day.  But when I was standing over the stove, browning the butter, I couldn’t help but think of the possibilities.  And that, my friends, was my downfall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Especially when Mom brought home fresh sage, and a tiny voice in the back of my mind started chanting sageandbrownbutter, sageandbrownbutter, sageandbrownbutterANDGNOCCHI, SAGEANDBROWNBUTTERANDGNOCCHI. I think we all know that my meager reserves of self-control and I would not survive against that kind of mental onslaught of deliciousness for long.

 

And OH MY GOD was it ever fantastic.  Really, how could it not be?  I melted butter and herbs and poured it over one of my favorite foods in the whole world.  How could I not swoon? Swoon I did, and so will you.

Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter Sauce

Feeds one person who knows she must eat this in small portions – I would double it unless you’re eating veggies or something on the side, which I was

 

2 tbsp butter

2 leaves of fresh sage

1 cup cooked gnocchi (I used frozen, but if you’re lucky enough to have fresh, I can only imagine the improvement)

1 small handful of chopped walnuts (I used about 4 or 5 halves, chopped)

 

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.  As soon as it coats the bottom, add the (whole) sage leaves.  Cook the butter until it becomes deeply golden and smells nutty, stirring frequently to get all of the butter solids off of the bottom.  When the butter is nearly finished, toss in the walnuts to lightly toast them.

Remove the sage leaves from the sauce, and pour over gnocchi.  Love every, single, solitary bite.

Swiss Chard Over Polenta Sunday, Nov 15 2009 

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Yup, we’re still gone, and you’re still suffering through Healthy Hour here on M&M.  It’s ok, Thanksgiving and Christmas are almost here, and I like to bake a lot. There’s sugar in the near future, friends.  But today, there’s more Swiss chard.

 

Enjoy!

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Swiss Chard Over Polenta
Serves one, and if you don’t like vegetables, send it my way – I’ll be happy to eat your portion of this one

 

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp garlic

1 shallot (just the bulb), finely minced

1/8-1/4 cup chopped red onion (depends on your love of onions)

1 bunch of Swiss chard, stems cut off and loosely chopped

1/8 cup chopped walnuts

1 square/circle of cooked polenta

Salt, pepper to taste

 

In a saucepan over medium heat, heat oil.  Saute garlic, onion, and shallot until fragrant.  Add chard, and cook until it’s completely wilted down.  Add walnuts, season, and heat another 1-2 minutes, and dump the whole thing in a bowl.  Cover to keep warm.

In the same pan (you don’t need anymore oil), grill the polenta until brown on both sides, and fully heated through.  Plate the polenta, and place the chard on top.

 

 

GUESS WHAT!?  Boyfriend’s back in town!  Well, actually we’re BOTH out of town: we’re in State College, Pennsylvania watching the Nittany Lions beat the pants off of the Hoosiers.  Since we’ll be cuddling under the Penn State Snuggie I sent him last week (seriously) and tailgating all day, someone should be enjoying some healthy meals – stay tuned for more of the same for the rest of the weekend!

Wontons Monday, Oct 26 2009 

In the interest of full disclosure (What’s that?  You don’t want to know all  my deep dark secrets? Too damn bad.), I feel that I should warn you of the impending photographic horrors about to be inflicted upon you during these next few posts.  My photography skills are not legendary, friends, and some recipes just don’t lend themselves to beautiful photos.  Wontons are one such dish.  That does not, however, mean that they weren’t completely delicious.

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I’m not sure what it is, but I’ve had Asian food on the brain bigtime lately.  Maybe the reason is that Boyfriend’s roommates were in the process of ordering dim sum last week when I was supposed to be on a plane, and even though my flight was delayed for two and a half hours (thank you, shitty snowy OCTOBER weather), I wasn’t there late enough to partake.  Instead, I ate at Wendy’s.  It honestly had not occurred to me that the entirety of Logan airport would be closing up shop for the night when I strolled up at 7:30, a half hour after this plane was originally scheduled to depart.  I mean really?  Did anyone else know that those check-in kiosk things only operate till 6PM?  Or that only one person works at each airport check-in counter at that time of the night on a Sunday?

I digress.  But when I finally flung myself into bed at 1AM after what could have been a much shorter day of traveling and a much more satisfying dinner, I was still salivating for the Asian food I had missed out on…for the entire two minutes it took me to pass the hell out and sleep like a rock until my god forsaken alarm went off at the absurdly early (and dark) hour of 7AM.  And after my 12-hour day of work, I dragged my tired self home to make the dinner I had been wanting for a full 24 hours.

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There was little to no plan involved here.  I did no shopping – if it wasn’t already in the fridge, I wasn’t eating it that night – and I sort of just started pulling ingredients out and adding them to the pan all willy-nilly.  Considering this, and the fact that my eyes were hardly open, I was pleasantly surprised astonished to find that I had actually created something so delicious that I made it again, from the beginning, the next night, so that I could measure and photograph it.  Not that the photographing portion of the evening went particularly well, but hey – the cooking part was a raging success, and isn’t that why you’re all here to begin with? That’s what I thought.

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Vegetable Wontons

Serves one

1 tsp minced garlic

2 tsp olive oil

1/8 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped celery

2 baby carrots, grated

1 tbsp chopped red pepper

1/4 cup chopped eggplant

1 tsp chopped walnuts

1 1/2 tsp chunky peanut butter

1/2 tsp soy sauce

1 tbsp beef broth

Wonton wrappers

Extra soy sauce, salt and red pepper flakes to taste

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, heat oil.  Add garlic and onion and cook until transluscent and slightly brown.  Add the rest of the vegetables and cook till soft.  Add peanut butter, beef stock and soy sauce, mixing everything together to coat all the vegetables.  Add walnuts, stir to combine.

On a sheet of waxed paper, lay separated wonton wrappers flat.  Place about a teaspoon of filling in each wrapper, then seal by dipping your finger in water and running along the rim of the wrapper.  Fold wrapper over filling and squeeze egdes together.

Heat a large pot of water to just under a boil, then drop in wontons in small batches, cooking (but not boiling) until transluscent.  Remove from water and place in bowl.  Top cooked wontons with salt, red pepper, and soy sauce.

Pumpkin Ravioli Thursday, Oct 8 2009 

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Ok everyone.  It’s over.  The pumpkin is gone from the fridge.  Is that a collective sigh of relief I’m hearing out there in blogville!? Well, I can’t say I’m surprised…

What I am surprised about is the ease with which these ravioli came together.  There was not even the remotest chance that yesterday evening, after three flu clinics in a row (during which I answered the question “When will the swine flu shot be available?” approximately 439,945,938 times), I was going to make pasta dough from scratch.  I don’t care how easy it is.  Even the thought of measuring flour exhausted me.  Instead, I took what I think is possibly one of the most ingenius culinary shortcuts ever invented – I used wonton wrappers.

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Have you ever used these things!? People: they are one dollar at the farmer’s market in my town. One dollar! For seemingly one million tiny little perfectly-cut circles of dough.  The package says it contains five servings, but my dinner creation last night did nothing to diminish the height of the stack.  What these suckers did diminish was my frustration level and cooking time – they cook in about four minutes, and the water isn’t even meant to come to a boil.  Does it get any easier, friends?  I think not.

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Pumpkin Ravioli
Look for the wonton/dumpling wrappers in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.  Obviously, you can stuff them with anything under the sun, and I’m already plotting our next adventure together. Don’t be surprised if you see them again this weekend stuffed with goat cheese and spinach. Yummmm, goat cheese.

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1/4 ground chicken

Handful of chopped, frozen spinach

1/4 finely dicely white onion

Pinch of each of the following, or to taste: salt, pepper, cayenne/red pepper flakes, all-spice, nutmeg, and cinnamon

1 tbsp olive oil

Lots of wonton wrappers

Lots of grated parmesan or pecorino cheese

Heat oil in a medium skillet and saute the onion until translucent, but not browned.  Add the chicken and cook until it is broken up and no longer pink.  Add pumpkin and spinach, and cook to heat.  Add spices and mix well.  Remove from heat.

Lay one wonton wrapper flat on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, and fill one side with about 2 teaspoons of filling.  Wet the outside edge of the wrapper, and seal tightly with your fingers.  Work quickly, as the wrappers will begin to dry out once the filling is inside.  You can either boil them in separate batches, or cover with a damp towel.

Once the ravioli are filled, heat a pot of water until just under boiling.  Drop ravioli in – don’t overcrowd, or they’ll stick together! – and cook until they begin to float and become translucent.

Top with grated cheese, and cracked pepper.

Italian Wedding Soup Tuesday, Sep 29 2009 

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I’m pretty picky when it comes to soups.  I’m pretty picky when it comes to everything actually, but we’ll just skip that little detour down psychotherapy lane and stick with soup for today.  Seriously though:

I don’t like miso because, hello, little bits of tofu floating through a bowl of chicken broth and mushrooms?  Where’s the deliciousness in that?  I don’t care if you’re low in calories, Miso, because you also taste yucky.

I don’t like tomato soup because, simply, I don’t like tomatoes.  And no, dunking grilled cheese in it does not make it better.  It just makes the grilled cheese worse.  And anything that ruins a sandwich consisting merely of bread, cheese, and butter is a sin in my book.

I don’t like creamy soups because they make me feel fat, and also because they remind me strangely of mashed potatoes…but not in a good way.

I don’t like gazpacho because it’s cold.

I don’t like broccoli cheddar (Bet you thought for sure that wouldn’t make the bad list, right?  Who doesn’t like broccoli cheddar!?  What do I get when I go to Panera!?), because if I’m going to be eating soup with that much broccoli in it, I would like it to be at least reasonably healthy.  Or at least markedly above qualifying as unhealthy.

I could go on, but I won’t because you’re a kind soul for still reading and let’s face it: you didn’t come to hear me bitch.  Or maybe you did – if so, WELCOME! – but either way, get to the point, Kate! So without further ado, I present to you my rendition of my favorite soup ever (it might be a tie with wonton, but really, that’s just an excuse for me to fish out the dumplings and eat them): Italian Wedding.  I know what you’re thinking: Um, why didn’t she use smaller noodles? Um, because she likes the noodles a whole lot and orzo and/or elbows were just not gonna cut it.  Judge away and use smaller noodles if you must.  It will not harm the deliciousness.

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Italian Wedding Soup

I didn’t follow a recipe for this at all, and I wound up making a crapload of it.  Seriously: three Tupperware containers, plus the bowl I ate immediately even though it was far, far to hot for human consumption.  You might want to make a little less unless you’re planning on feeding yourself three meals a day for a week, which, evidentally, I was.

Anyway, my recommendations: season the meatballs more than I did, because they’re a little bland.  I mean, what did we expect from fat-free ground chicken breast, but still.  Also, I think switching out a cup or two of the chicken stock for beef might make the flavor a little richer, and of course, if you want to use beef for the meatballs, I would switch most of the chicken stock out with beef stock.  Otherwise it’s a little confusing.

Lastly, do not make this when you’re starving.  It takes a few pots and a little while to simmer and honestly, my celery was a little crunchy still because I was impatient.  So take your time, and have a little snack beforehand.  Trust me.

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 large white onion, diced

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 stalk of celery, chopped

6 or so baby carrots, chopped

1/2 cup of pasta (I used more than this, and you can too, but this is probably a more reasonable ratio than I chose)

1/2 lb ground chicken

2 – 3 tbsp seasoned Italian breadcrumbs

1 egg

1 – 2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese

7 – 9 cups of chicken stock

1/2 cup of frozen chopped spinach (again, I used more, but I like spinach and this is more than enough for normal humans)

Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and oregano to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large pot (you’re putting 8 cups of liquid into this thing: make it a biggie) over medium-high heat, saute the onions, garlic, carrots, and celery in olive oil until all the vegetables are tender and the onion is translucent, but not browned.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until just undercooked.  It’ll cook longer later, in the stock, so you don’t want it quite as done as you’d generally eat pasta.  Drain the noodles and set aside.

Mix together the ground meat, parmesan cheese, egg, and breadcrumbs, and mash it all around with your fingers.  Season with salt, pepper, and whatever other spices you choose.  Form into small balls, and lay, spaced out, in a clear baking dish.  Bake, uncovered, for 15 – 20 minutes, or until cooked through (cut one in half to check – if it’s not pink, it’s done). Set aside.

Once the vegetables are tender, pour in all of the stock and turn up the heat until it begins to boil.  Keeping the mixture at a low boil (no bubbles exploding all over your kitchen, just above a simmer), add the spinach and meatballs and allow to cook for 10 – 15 minutes.  Taste the broth and season to your liking, then add the pasta and allow to cook for another few minutes, until everything is heated through (you don’t want the pasta to disintegrate, so don’t let it bubble forever like sauce or chili), the pasta is fully cooked, and the vegetables aren’t crunchy.

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