Thursday, November 29, 2012

Leftovers find new life in turkey soup

You've probably seen the credit card commercials that ask, "What's in your wallet?"

I have a question that's far less intrusive and has an answer that could be far more interesting: "What's in your refrigerator/freezer?"

This time of year, the answer is apt to be leftover turkey. I also had leftover turkey stock, turkey gravy that I'd frozen into a thin sheet in a zip-top bag, and celery. I had half a red onion and some mushrooms that remained after I topped a pizza, plus carrots and parsnips. My pantry held barley and chicken stock. I pulled out all those ingredients, chopped a little and stirred even less, and an hour later, I had a steaming pot of hearty soup. The leftovers were so well seasoned that I didn't even need to add salt and pepper.

I can't remember what credit card company paid for all those commercials, and you might not recall either. In contrast, I think this soup will be hard to forget.

Yield: 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
1 rib celery, chopped
4 ounces mushrooms, sliced
6 cups turkey or chicken stock (or a combination)
1 medium parsnip, peeled and sliced thinly
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced thinly
1/3 cup barley
1 1/2 cups chopped cooked turkey
1/4 cup turkey gravy, optional (see note)
Salt, optional
Ground black pepper, optional

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large saucepan or small stockpot. Add onion; sauté for a minute or two, then add celery and sauté for a few minutes more. Add mushrooms; sauté until they release their liquid. Pour in stock and bring to a boil over high heat.

Add parsnip, carrot and barley. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until barley is tender, about 45 minutes.

Add turkey and gravy; cook until hot. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Note: The gravy adds richness and thickens the soup slightly. If you freeze leftover gravy in a thin sheet in a zip-top plastic bag, you can break off as much as you need and return the rest to the freezer.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tiramisu: a recipe for easy entertaining

I've seen tiramisu recipes that start with pound cake, angel food cake or sponge cake. In my mind, however, it's not tiramisu unless it's made with the crisp Italian ladyfingers called savoiardi. The soft American version won't do -- you need a crisp little cake to soak up the mixture of coffee and liqueur that gives tiramisu its name, which translates to "pick me up." Look for savoiardi with the imported cookies in well-stocked supermarkets or seek out an Italian grocery.

On the other hand, classic tiramisu is made with well-beaten but uncooked eggs. I prefer this custard-based version, which has an appealing texture and lovely flavor. Reducing worries about food safety, especially when transporting the dessert to a holiday potluck, is a bonus. Just keep the tiramisu cold, either in the refrigerator or in an insulated carrier.

I created this recipe when I was making dessert for my book club -- and the discussion following dinner was, in a word, spirited.

Yield: 16 to 20 servings

6 egg yolks (see note)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup milk (2 percent or whole)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups heavy cream
1 pound mascarpone cheese
2 cups espresso or strong coffee, at room temperature
1 cup coffee liqueur (such as Kahlua) 
About 12 ounces savoiardi (crisp Italian ladyfingers; see note)
About 1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder 

In a medium saucepan, whisk together yolks and sugar. Whisk in milk. Place over medium heat. Stirring constantly with a silicone spatula or a wooden spoon, bring to a boil. As you stir, scrape the bottom and the sides of the pan. When slow bubbles rise and break the surface, reduce the heat to medium-low. Still stirring, cook until mixture thickens, about 1 minute. Remove from heat; pour into a large bowl. Stir in vanilla. Stir frequently until custard is cool enough to refrigerate. To prevent a skin from forming, cover the entire surface with a sheet of plastic wrap, pressing it against the custard. Refrigerate until cold.

When ready to proceed, whip cream until stiff peaks form.

Add half the mascarpone to cold custard; stir with a whisk until well blended. Whisk in the remaining mascarpone. Add whipped cream to the bowl. Fold whipped cream into custard mixture with a spatula, blending completely but being careful not to overmix. Set aside.

Stir together coffee and liqueur in a bowl or pan large enough to dip the ladyfingers. (A loaf pan is perfect.) One at a time, dip both sides of the ladyfingers into the mixture and arrange in a single layer covering the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Dip just enough ladyfingers to form a single layer.  Set aside the remaining ladyfingers and dipping liquid.

Dollop half of the custard mixture over the soaked ladyfingers. Smooth into an even layer. (An offset spatula is the best tool for this task.)

Dip as many of the remaining ladyfingers as needed in the coffee mixture, making an even layer over the custard. Top with the remaining custard,  smoothing it into an even layer. Spoon cocoa powder into a fine-mesh strainer and sprinkle over the top.

Cover with plastic wrap, taking care not to touch the surface of the tiramisu. Refrigerate until set, at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.

• If you wish, use the egg whites to make meringue cookies. Don't make meringues on a humid day, however, or they'll stay sticky no matter how long you bake them.
• You can bake your own savoiardi using a recipe such as this one.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Stuffed French toast for brunch -- or dessert

If you have house guests over the holidays -- or even if you don't -- stuffed French toast would be a tasty surprise for friends or family. Serve it with bacon or sausage and a fruit salad for brunch, or cut the toasted sandwiches into quarters and offer with a cup of coffee for dessert or a late-night snack.

I like to fill the sandwiches with thin layers of a chocolate-hazelnut spread such as Nutella and bitter orange marmalade. Don't overdue the filling or it will leak out during cooking.

When I was in Cottlesville, Mo., recently, I stopped by a new candy store and coffee shop, VanBuskirk Artisanal Chocolates, and came home with a jar of chocolate-caramel jam with toasted hazelnuts that had been cooked in a copper kettle. When making these sandwiches, I paired the jam with orange marmalade and bread from another St. Louis-area business, The Daily Bread Bakery and Cafe. All three products were delicious, and a jar of chocolate jam and/or a jar of orange marmalade would make a sweet gift to a teacher or another someone special.

You could substitute peanut butter for the chocolate spread and experiment with different fruit jams, such as raspberry. Bananas would be a nice addition to the sandwich  or replacement for the jam.

You can use your favorite bread in this French toast, but I think a thinly sliced white bread made with eggs, such as challah or brioche, work best.

Finally, keep the burner on medium-low while you cook the sandwiches. If the heat is too high, the bread will brown before the eggs cook through.

Yield: 3 servings

2 eggs
3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 thin slices white bread
2 tablespoons chocolate-hazelnut spread
2 tablespoons bitter orange marmalade
1 teaspoon butter

Beat eggs in a small bowl. Beat in milk and vanilla. Pour into a shallow dish, such as a pie plate.

Spread 3 slices of bread with a thin layer of chocolate-hazelnut spread. Spread the remaining 3 slices of bread with a thin layer of marmalade. Close the sandwiches.

Dip sandwiches into egg mixture, turning them several times so both sides absorb the mixture evenly. Meanwhile, melt butter over medium-low heat in a large nonstick skillet.

Cook sandwiches until golden on both sides, turning frequently.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

This Thanksgiving, pass the chutney

Here's my Thanksgiving grocery list:

Turkey ... check
Pumpkin ... check
Green beans ... check
Cranberries ... check
Figs ... figs?

Yes, figs. They're as essential to my Thanksgiving cooking as the other, more predictable ingredients on  my list. That's because I can't make cranberry fig chutney without them.

I've been making this recipe, with a few tweaks, since it was published in Bon Appetit more than 20 years ago. The chutney is beautiful on the table and delicious on the plate. But don't stop there -- it's excellent with ham and chicken, and a sandwich of leftover turkey, brie and cranberry fig chutney cannot be beat.

If you have a food processor, pull it out for this recipe. If not, you'll spend some time chopping, but I think you'll find the results well worth the effort.

Make the chutney at least 24 hours before you serve it. If you taste it when it finishes cooking, you'll probably think it's awful. The flavors will be sharp and unpleasant. But let the ingredients meld, and the magic happens.

Yield: 1 quart; about 16 servings

1 (12-ounce) bag cranberries
1 1/2 tablespoons peeled and finely chopped ginger 
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 large or 8 small dried figs, stemmed  and chopped
1 orange, washed well and dried, chopped and seeded (do not peel)
2 tablespoons raisins
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground red (cayenne) pepper
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

Wash berries; drain well. Discard any soft berries. Transfer to a medium nonaluminum saucepan. Add remaining ingredients.

Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Cook until all the berries pop, about 5 to 10 minutes.

Ladle into clean jars; cover with lids. Let sit at room temperature until cool, then refrigerate for up to 6 weeks.

• Use the tip of a spoon to peel the ginger.

• If using a thin-skinned orange, chop the entire orange, including the white pith. If the orange has a thick layer of pith, you might want to remove the colored portion of the peel (the zest) with a vegetable peeler or paring knife, then cut off and discard the pith. Chop the zest and the orange.

• To prepare ingredients with a food processor, follow this sequence: Chop ginger; measure and add to pan. Chop onion; measure and add to pan. Process figs with about 2 tablespoons of the sugar until chopped (the sugar prevents sticking); add to pan. Process orange until chopped; add to pan along with the remaining ingredients.

• This recipe can be doubled and cooked in a large stockpot.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Writing a family cookbook? Here's help

This is a great time of year to start compiling a family cookbook. You can talk about the project over Thanksgiving and work with your family to refine your ideas over the remaining winter holidays. Establish a deadline for everyone to submit recipes, give yourself ample time for editing and production, and you can have books in hand by Thanksgiving 2013.

You'll need to decide who will contribute, how many recipes you want to publish, whether you want a headnote (a descriptive sentence or paragraph) before each recipe and whether to include art -- either family photos or pictures of the food. (If you decide on food photos, check back soon. I'll talk about food styling in another post.)

Pass out a recipe style sheet to the contributors and ask them to follow it exactly. That will make your task as the compiler/editor much easier.

I suggest using this format, which will result in a recipe that's easy to edit and easy to follow in the kitchen:


2. Name of the contributor or the person who created the recipe

3. Yield (number of servings)

4. List of ingredients, each on a separate line, in the order they are used. Ask people to be as specific as possible, especially when calling for ingredients that have several common variations (all-purpose flour, bread flour, whole-wheat flour, for example).

5. Directions, including oven temperature; pan sizes; cooking times; and how to tell when the food is done. Again, the recipes should be as specific as possible.

To avoid mistakes, keep the original recipes and compare them with the finished recipes when you give the pages a final look. And don't hesitate to ask for help -- everyone needs an editor, or at least a proofreader.

Many companies work frequently or exclusively with self-published cookbooks, and websites offer software for e-books. For a good sampling, Google "self-published cookbook" and "publish family cookbook." In addition, ask around -- chances are that your place of worship, club or child's school has put out a cookbook recently. Ask the editor if she was pleased with the company that printed it or wishes she had gone a different way.

Compiling a family cookbook will take a ton of work and unswerving attention to detail. When you're done however, you'll have produced a family treasure.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Chocolate meets pumpkin in muffins

I've been stirring up these muffins and breads for several years, tweaking the recipe over time to make it tastier and healthier.

Subbing white whole-wheat flour for all-purpose was an easy start. This product, relatively new to the market, is made from flour that is naturally light in color. It looks a lot like white flour, and it bakes a lot like white flour, but it's a whole grain. I use it when making quick breads and hearty cookies but not in tender cakes.

Heart-healthy canola oil replaces the butter you'll find in many recipes. A light colored, light-tasting olive oil would work too. Each muffin contains only 2 teaspoons of oil. If you'd like to cut that amount in half, substitute 1/4 cup of unsweetened applesauce for 1/4 cup of the oil. The muffins or bread will be a little less tender but still delicious.

I like to bake with organic granulated sugar, sometimes called evaporated cane juice. A whisper of molasses is left, turning the sugar a light tan color and adding a nice, light flavor. You can substitute regular granulated sugar if you wish.

I love the way this tastes when I stir dark chocolate chips into the batter. That's what inspired my latest alteration. I replaced 2 tablespoons of the flour with unsweetened cocoa powder. That tiny amount darkens the batter and intensifies the spices. You can't taste the cocoa, but you can taste the difference.

Yield: 12 regular muffins or 48 mini muffins or a 9-by-5-inch loaf or 3 mini loaves

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 7/8 cups white whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
1 cup granulated sugar (preferably organic)
1/2 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet or dark chocolate chips or chunks
1 cup raisins or chopped walnuts or a combination

Place an oven rack so it sits just below the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin cups or loaf pan(s) with nonstick cooking spray.

Place cocoa powder in a 1-cup dry measuring cup. Stir or whisk flour in the canister, then spoon into the measuring cup, mounding the flour. Using the straight edge of a knife, sweep off the excess. Pour into a large mixing bowl. Measure and add the other 1 cup flour. Add baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt. Whisk until well combined.

In another large bowl, combine pumpkin, sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla. Whisk until well blended. Add to the dry ingredients. Use a rubber or silicone spatula to mix gently but well, scraping the bottom of the bowl. (The less you stir, the more tender the outcome.) Use the spatula to quickly fold in the chocolate chips and raisins and/or walnuts.

To portion batter evenly for muffins, use an ice-cream scoop coated with cooking spray. A cookie scoop works well for mini muffins. To make a loaf or loaves, scrape batter into pan(s).

Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with just a few clinging crumbs, about 25 minutes for regular muffins, 15 to 20 minutes for mini muffins, 50 minutes for a regular loaf or 35 minutes for mini loaves. Let cool slightly, then remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Herbs, citrus add zest to flank steak

When I composed my last post, the day was gray and chilly and all I could think about was soup. Today is sunny and warm. Such is November.
Fortunately, this recipe will work whatever the weather. I tossed this flank steak and accompanying sweet potatoes on the grill, but the broiler or a cast-iron pan on the stove also are good options for cooking the steak.
I used fresh thyme and rosemary from my garden for flavor and garnish. If all you have is dried, use them in the marinade instead. Just remember that you'll need to reduce the amount by about two-thirds if you're using dried herbs instead fresh. If a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, for example, use about 1 teaspoon dried. And if you don't have those herbs on hand, use whatever you like. This recipe is easy to make your own. Use soy sauce and ginger for Asian flair, for instance, or look to Latin America and flavor the marinade with a pinch of cumin and hot sauce or ground chiles.
The potatoes are so easy that you don't need a recipe. Slice medium sweet potatoes about half an inch thick, brush lightly with olive oil, and grill over a medium fire until tender. Sprinkle lightly with salt just before serving.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Juice of 1 tangerine or 1/2 orange
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons grated onion 
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
Ground black pepper
2 to 4 rosemary sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
6 thyme sprigs or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
1 1/2 pounds beef flank steak

In a large self-sealing plastic bag, combine juices, onion, garlic, oil, salt and pepper to taste, rosemary and thyme. Mix well. Add steak, rubbing the marinade into all surfaces and distributing the herb sprigs evenly. Seal and refrigerate up to 2 hours or let sit at room temperature while you prepare a medium-hot fire in the grill.
When ready to cook, remove meat from marinade and pat dry with a paper towel. Discard marinade. If using a grill, lightly oil the grate. If cooking in a cast-iron skillet, heat until very hot. If using a broiler, place pan under broiler until hot.
Cook steak on grill, in pan or under broiler until done, turning as needed, about 10 minutes total for medium-rare. (For the most tender, tastiest steak, don't cook past medium-rare.)
Transfer to a cutting board; tent loosely with foil and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, then slice thinly against the grain and serve.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tortilla soup brightens a gray day

The weather here in St. Louis has caught up to the calendar. The day is gray, wet and chilly -- and I know I'm not the only one thinking longingly of soup.
Both the temperature and the spiciness in tortilla soup will warm you up. Once you add the crunch of tortilla chips, the creaminess of avocado and the satisfying shreds of chicken, this bowl of soup contains just about everything you could want in a winter meal.
This recipe isn't strictly authentic, but I think you'll like it anyway. I've made it for years and have never seen a bowl that wasn't scraped clean. Most tortilla soups are thickened with pieces of corn tortillas that dissolve as the soup simmers. I stray from conventional recipes by using grits. It's a technique born of necessity, when I was out of tortillas but craving tortilla soup. Trial and error taught me to grind the grits in a clean coffee grinder; otherwise, the tiny grains don't dissolve. You can substitute corn flour (which won't need to be ground) or cornmeal. Just stay away from self-rising cornmeal, which has salt and leavening that don't belong in a pot of soup.
This recipe also is a great way to use leftover baked or roasted chicken. Supermarket rotisserie chickens practically were made for tortilla soup, especially if you buy one of the giant club-store varieties that are too, too big for most families to eat in one meal.
Canned chipotles used to be sold whole in adobo sauce and needed to be pureed by the cook. Now, however, you can buy small cans of pureed chipotles (which are smoked jalapeno chiles, by the way). You'll have most of the can leftover. Pour the excess into a quart-size zip-top freezer bag, spread into a thin layer, and freeze flat. Next time you need some puree, take it out of the freezer and break off the amount you need.

Yield: About 6 servings

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
32 ounces low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon dry corn grits or cornmeal, ground to a powder, or 2 teaspoons corn flour 
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons Southwestern-style salt-free seasoning blend or to taste
1 teaspoon chipotle puree or to taste
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, plus cilantro sprigs for garnish
1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken 
About 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese or Mexican-style cheese blend
Tortilla chips, for garnish
1/2 avocado, cut into chunks
1 lime, cut into wedges

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large pot. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring frequently, until onion begins to brown. Add both cans of tomatoes and broth. Bring to a simmer, then stir in ground grits. Stir in Southwestern seasoning and chipotle puree. Let simmer about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in corn; when corn is cooked, remove soup from heat. Stir in chopped cilantro.

Place 1/4 cup chicken in each soup bowl. Ladle soup over chicken. Top each serving with a heaping tablespoon of cheese, tortilla chips to taste, a few avocado chunks, a lime wedge and a sprig of cilantro. Before eating, squeeze lime into the soup.

Welcome to Eat • Write!

Thanks for checking out my new blog. Its name reflects two of my passions: cooking and writing about food.
I spent almost 20 years as a newspaper food editor, and my favorite part of the job was sharing information about ingredients, tools and techniques. Sure, I love to try new restaurants and to interview famous chefs, but day in and day out, the thing I enjoy most is interacting with home cooks.
That's because I'm a home cook myself. I didn't go to culinary school, although I've had the opportunity to watch more than a few chefs pass along their secrets. I don't stock up on expensive ingredients, but I'm careful about brands and try to buy quality products. I've accumulated a fair number of gadgets over the years, but I'm most likely to reach for my chef's knife and cutting board when it's time to make dinner, and I cook on a 20-year-old gas stove lacking any bells and whistles.
I love to cook and to bake, and the recipes on this blog will reflect that. I aim for healthful food with an occasional splurge, and when a recipe has a healthful option, I'll include that information. I like to experiment with cuisines from around the world, but mostly, I like foods that are packed with flavor.
I also love to share what I know about food writing. Whether you want to be a professional food writer, a food blogger or even compile a community cookbook, I can help. I'll be posting tips and hints that make your recipes easy to read and follow.
Please come back often to this blog to see what's new. And if you have a writing question or a recipe question, drop me a line at or leave a comment. I'll do my best to provide an answer.