December 2013


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Looking for a sweet ‘n easy way to start your day? Apricot almond bread pudding coming right up! Ultra-almond-y, custard-y inside, with a toasted almond, slightly crunchy sugar top! I adapted this from my favorite, tried and true chocolate bread pudding recipe.

ALMOND APRICOT BREAD PUDDING

1 baguette, sliced into 1-inch cubes (2 mini baguettes = 12 oz. in today’s batch)
canned apricots, slice each half in three slices
1.5 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup (½ stick) of butter
½ cup sugar (I used ½ light brown, half Sugar in the Raw)
3 eggs
2 teaspoons almond extract
½ cup sliced almonds for top

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Arrange half the bread in a buttered 8 x 8″ baking dish. Distribute sliced apricots evenly across the bread so each serving will have a few pieces.

Heat the cream, milk and butter. Add to the eggs, sugar and almond extract you’ve beaten in a separate bowl.

Pour this mixture over the bread. Sprinkle evenly with almonds and 2 teaspoons sugar in the raw.

Place this pan into a larger (9 x 13″) pan filled with an inch or so of hot water. The water should come no higher than two thirds of the way up the side of the pudding pan. Bake 45-50 minutes or until a knife inserted near the edge of the pan comes out clean.

Serve warm or cold–it was breakfast today, but would be a great dessert! To take it over the top, pour a little heavy cream over the top. 🙂 Or add whippy cream. Whatever you do, enjoy!

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My mom called a bit ago with some feedback that made my whole day. Jimmy said the pasta fazool I sent over was just like his mom used to make. WOW!

You’d hafta know Jimmy to understand the depth of that compliment. Jimmy is 82–an old school, hardcore, 100% Sicilian, no bullshit kinda guy. He fought in Korea. He can build things, fix things, has traveled all over the world. He’ll tell you like it is and then some.

Despite his gruff exterior, he’s also the kind of guy who puts out a special dish of seeds for “his” chipmunks in my mom’s driveway and used to take my dog out for hot dogs on the Pike. He also makes killer hot peppers and sends them to me. And chicken soup. Sometimes he even puts Hershey kisses in my containers when he returns them.

Now, I’ve had Henry Hill’s cookbook on my coffee table since this summer: The Wiseguy Cookbook–my favorite recipes from my life as a goodfella to cooking on the run. Goodfellas is one of my favorite movies of all time. Henry weaves all sorts of tales of his crimes and general mischief throughout the recipes. I had been leafing through it on and off and noticed his pasta fazool called for both beef broth and chicken broth. Hmm. Interesting. I’ll hafta try that sometime.

I rarely follow a recipe to the letter, but thought it would be cool to make Henry’s recipe as written. I started prepping the vegetables and, as usual, I drained and rinsed the beans. Then I read the recipe more closely. “Stir in beans and their juice…” Henry! WTF?! I say that with respect, man. I’ve heard you speak and know you and the F-word were well-acquainted. Why would you do that?

Oh, well. I did want to do this your way, but not with all the glop and preservatives from the can, so I’ll just add more liquid. Your recipe called for 4 cups of chicken broth, 2 cups of beef–and the dreaded “bean juice.” I changed that to 3 cups of beef broth, 2 cups of chicken, 2 cups of water and 1 cup of dry white wine.

So here we are–Henry Hill and yours truly in the kitchen. It’s BYOO-dee-full! And more, much more than this, I did it “My Way.” Let’s do this thinG–for Jimmy!

A GOODFELLA’S PASTA FAZOOL
from the recipe files of Henry Hill and Hope Simmons

And you’ve gotta know Henry must have said it just the way I typed it phonetically above, though, yes, it’s pasta e fagiole. Trust me, no one says it that way ’round heah.

2 slices slab bacon, cut in 1-inch pieces (local amici, PLEASE go to Meadow Meat)
1 large sweet onion, diced
8 garlic cloves, pressed
1-2 large stalks celery, sliced thin
1-2 large carrots, peeled and crinkle-cut (you know!)
2 15-oz. cans small white beans, rinsed and drained
3 cups beef broth
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 cup dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Pecorino Romano (1/4 to 1/2 cup)
1 cup uncooked small pasta (I used Sclafani cavatelli)
Freshly ground black pepper
Dash cayenne pepper

I used a Dutch oven, but you could use a large pot. Add bacon, cook over medium to low heat, stirring (do not brown). Add onion and cook, stirring 5 minutes until translucent. Add garlic, celery and carrot and cook 5 minutes more, stirring.

Raise heat to medium. Stir in beans, beef and chicken broth, water, wine, bay leaf and rosemary. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add pasta, black pepper and cayenne. Cook according to the package directions for the pasta you choose, till pasta is al dente. Stir in cheese.

Serve to your friends and family. And keep smilin’! CENT’ANN’!

Janey and Jimmy (August 2011)

Janey and Jimmy (August 2011)

And now, I must close with the correct musical accompaniment.

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There’s nothing like a snowstorm to send many of us (who, me?) straight to the kitchen. I crossed my roasted tomato vodka sauce recipe with Tyler Florence’s soup recipe and am happy to share the result with you. It’s rich, delicious and warms up the house like nobody’s business. Make sure you have some nice bread on hand (plain or to grill with cheese) and let’s get cookin’!

ROASTED TOMATO SOUP

3 pints grape tomatoes
6 gloves garlic, peeled
1 large sweet onion, cut in half, then sliced
Olive oil to coat your baking dish
1 heaping teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 cup vodka
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons salted butter
3 bay leaves
sprigs of fresh thyme if you have them
zest of one lemon

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Layer the onions, tomatoes and garlic cloves into a large roasting dish. Toss with olive oil and a generous teaspoon of Kosher salt.

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Roast for 20 minutes. Use tongs to move everything around, then roast for 10 more minutes. Add vodka to roasting pan after taking them out of the oven.

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Transfer everything in the roasting pan to a large stock pot . Add chicken stock, bay leaves, thyme and butter. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid has reduced by a third. Remove bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Season with freshly ground black pepper and add lemon zest.

Remove from heat and blend the soup with an immersion blender until smooth. You can drizzle with a bit of heavy cream when you serve to take this straight over the top, but I promise this soup is super-rich and flavorful on its own. It would be lovely to garnish with fresh basil or parsley. Enjoy with your favorite bread or maybe even a grilled cheese. Stay toasty, amici!

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Somebody gimme a cheeseburger! So sang Steve Miller in “Livin’ in the USA!” And so I was inspired to create a comforting bacon cheeseburger…in a bowl. STAND BACK!

If you love a cheeseburger, this soup is calling your name. And since there’s nothing like your favorite brew to go with, we’ve got beer in the mix, too. Of course, you can use all chicken stock if you prefer. But, boy, this is goooooooood!

BACON CHEESEBURGER SOUP

4 thick strips slab bacon, in small cubes
1 pound ground chuck
¾ teaspoons Kosher salt
large sweet onion, diced
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped (yes, of course, I used a crinkle-cutter–by now you know the rules!)
1½ pounds red potatoes, scrubbed and diced (no need to peel)
1 red pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, diced (remember to wear your gloves if you have sensitive paws like me!)
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup beer*
¼ cup flour
3 tablespoons butter
1½ cups whole milk
8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese (I used Cabot Seriously Sharp)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (I love Grey Poupon Harvest Coarse Ground, but choose your fave)
1 tablespoon  hot sauce of your choice (I used Frank’s Red Hot)
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Optional for garnish:
Vlasic Zesty Dill Stackers, chopped
Extra shredded cheddar

*Not crazy about beer in your soup? Just use three cups of chicken stock instead of two.

In a large saucepan,  cook bacon till crispy. Drain excess fat on a paper towel and set aside. Save the bacon drippings for when it’s time to cook the onions, celery and carrots. You’ll need about two tablespoons—just enough to coat the bottom of the saucepan.

Cook ground chuck. Strain off fat and set aside. I put mine in a bowl with the bacon.

In bacon drippings, cook onion, carrots and celery over medium heat—maybe 8-10 minutes.

Add potatoes, broth, beer, red pepper and jalapeno. Bring to a boil then reduce heat, cover and simmer 10-12 minutes (till potatoes are tender).

In a small saucepan, melt butter and whisk in flour to form a roux. Stir roux, then cheese, into the broth and veggies. When the cheese is all melted, add mustard, hot sauce, milk, ground chuck and bacon. Stir to combine, then remove from heat.

Garnish with a little extra shredded cheddar and chopped dill pickles for the complete bacon cheeseburger experience in a bowl!