November 30, 2012

Creamy Tomato Soup from Panera

I've been a "Featured Publisher" with FoodBuzz (now DailyBuzz Food) since December 2007. One of the perks of this relationship is occasional offers to try products, sample menu items, and review cookbooks. I usually decline such offers (unless it's for a cookbook, as I'll always say YES to free books), but when asked if I'd try some of Panera's new soups I gladly agreed (I do like Panera, which started out as the St. Louis Bread Company, though I don't eat there often).

So, as part of the DailyBuzz Food Tastemaker program, I received a gift card and stipend from Panera to do so. All opinions, however, are my own.

Panera's soup menu changes every day. There are five varieties offered daily, with two additional seasonal selections that switch each day. I chose the creamy tomato soup paired with a "Big Kid Grilled Cheese" (three cheese with bacon). I just couldn't pass up my favorite classic soup & sandwich combination.

According to the Panera Soup Stories webpage, they use whole pear tomatoes in this soup for a more intense flavor, less bitterness, and a nice texture that's not just a smooth puree. The soup is topped with asiago croutons, which are meant to mimic the flavors & textures of a grilled cheese.

I was happy with my choices; the soup is boldly flavored (instead of tasting like watery tomato juice, a curse of many tomato soups) with a generous topping of croutons. It made for a satisfying & comforting dinner on a cold November evening. 

* * *
Can't make it out to a Panera to try their new soups? Then, make some of your own at home! Here are some of my favorite soup recipes:


November 25, 2012

Homemade Twinkies

By now, you've all heard that Hostess has gone out of business, stopping production at their plants and selling their assets. According to the Hostess Brands website: "In addition to dozens of baking and distribution facilities around the country, Hostess Brands will sell its popular brands, including Hostess, Drakes and Dolly Madison, which make iconic cake products such as Twinkies, CupCakes, Ding Dongs, Ho Ho’s, Sno Balls and Donettes. Bread brands to be sold include Wonder, Nature’s Pride, Merita, Home Pride, Butternut, and Beefsteak, among others."

The closing is noted as the result of a union workers' strike. However, it seems as if Hostess has been struggling for a while. I would think it was in part due to a backlash against overly-processed, high fructose-laden foods. Steve Ettlinger's book Twinkie, Deconstructed certainly didn't help, I'm sure.

While I don't typically buy or eat Hostess snack cakes, the closing makes me a little sad. It really is the end of an era. It's a little weird to think that future generations won't know what a Twinkie or a Ding Dong tastes like (ah, nostalgia)...unless we make them ourselves.

Last year, I made homemade Twinkies for my College English class. We were studying food issues; we watched the documentary Food, Inc. and read excerpts from Ettlinger's book. I wanted my students to realize how bad fast food, processed foods, and sugar was for them. So, I brought in a box of Twinkies (which are made of 37 ingredients) to compare with my homemade version. Everyone thought the homemade cakes tasted better; the "real" Twinkies were just too sweet and sticky.

I used an eclair pan to get that classic Twinkie shape.

The cakes were filled with a fluffy vanilla frosting. Don't they look just like "real" Twinkies?

 Homemade Twinkies
recipe from Leite's Culinaria

makes 12 snack cakes

Nonstick cooking spray or vegetable oil 
1/2 cup cake flour 
1/4 cup all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
2 tablespoons milk, preferably whole 
4 tablespoons unsalted butter 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
5 large eggs, at room temperature 
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
Seven-Minute Frost, for the filling (recipe below)
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) and adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position. Coat a cream canoe/eclair pan with non-stick cooking spray or vegetable oil. (If you don't have a pan, click HERE for directions on how to make molds out of aluminum foil.)
  • Whisk the flours, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.
  • Heat the milk and butter in a small saucepan over low heat until the butter melts. Remove from the heat add the vanilla. Cover to keep warm.
  • Separate the eggs, placing the whites in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or, if using a hand mixer or whisk, a large mixing bowl) and reserving the yolks in another bowl. Beat the whites on high speed until foamy. Gradually add 6 tablespoons of the sugar and the cream of tartar and continue to beat until the whites reach soft, moist peaks.
  • Transfer the beaten egg whites to a large bowl and add the egg yolks to the standing mixer bowl—there’s no need to clean the bowl (or, if using a hand mixer or whisk, simply place the egg yolks in a separate large bowl). Beat the egg yolks with the remaining 6 tablespoons sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture is very thick and a pale lemon color, about 5 minutes. Add the beaten egg whites to the yolks, but do not mix.
  • Sprinkle the flour mixture over the egg whites and then mix everything on low speed for just 10 seconds (or, if using a hand mixer or whisk, until blended but not thoroughly combined). Remove the bowl from the mixer, make a well in one side of the batter, and pour the melted butter mixture into the bowl. Fold gently with a large rubber spatula until the batter shows no trace of flour and the whites and yolks are evenly mixed, about 8 strokes.
  • Immediately scrape the batter into the prepared pan, filling each with about 3/4 inch of batter. Bake until the cake tops are light brown and feel firm and spring back when touched, 13 to 15 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and allow the cakes to cool in the molds.
  • Just before filling, remove each cake from the pan. Using the end of a chopstick, poke three holes in the bottom of each cake, just like in the bottom of real Twinkies. Wiggle the tip of the chopstick around quite a lot to make room for the filling.
  • Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag fit with a small tip (about 1/4 inch across). Pipe the frosting into the holes you created in the bottom of the cakes. As you fill each cake, hold it in your hand and press your palm gently around it so you can feel the cake expand, taking care not to overfill and crack the cake.
Seven-Minute Frosting (Filling)

3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
3 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  •  In the metal bowl of a stand mixer set over a saucepan of simmering water (make sure the bowl doesn't touch the water), combine the sugar, corn syrup, 3 tablespoons of water, egg whites, and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar has completely dissolved, about 3-4 minutes.
  • Attack the bowl to the mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until glossy, thick, billowing peaks form, about 7 minutes (duh).
  • Beat in the vanilla & use immediately.

November 17, 2012

Cranberry & Apple Salad

I really miss family holidays. I fondly remember going to my grandma & grandpa's house in Mt. Olive, Illinois, the night before Thanksgiving. We get up really early in the morning to put the turkey in the oven, then Grandpa would make eggs-in-a-cup (coddled eggs in coffee cups) for breakfast. They'd let me drink coffee, before I was even ten years old.

Grandma Martin, circa 1940s in Florida (?)
Grandpa Martin, United States Marine

I'd watch my grandma make dressing with lots of torn-up white bread, celery, onions, sage, and turkey broth. I'd help pop cranberries in the old metal grinder for her infamous cranberry salad. These two dishes were my favorites, and I usually still make them each year.

This year is no exception. I've been invited to The Mom's house for Thanksgiving dinner (first time meeting her...eeeeek!). I'm bringing a Bailey's caramel chocolate pie and Grandma Martin's cranberry salad.

Cranberry & Apple Salad 

 Grandma's recipe looks just like this one from The Food Channel, even though they have different ingredients.

 It simply doesn't seem like Thanksgiving without this side dish. 
More like a relish than a salad, this is what my family always served instead of cranberry sauce.

1 bag fresh cranberries
2 red-skinned apples (like Jonathans), cored & cut into wedges
1/2 cup sugar (or more to taste)
1 cup pecans, chopped
  • Pop the cranberries & mush the apples by running them through a meat grinder. Grandma always used the old fashioned metal kind that attached to the counter (in fact, I don't remember her using it for anything else!). If you don't have a meat grinder, pulse the cranberries in a food processor just to pop them. You want this to be fairly chunky.
  • Mix in the sugar & pecans. Taste. Add more sugar until it's sweet enough for you.
  • Serve as a side dish with Thanksgiving dinner.
This also makes a great relish for turkey sandwiches...and you can make some tasty cranberry muffins with the leftovers!

November 15, 2012

Pumpkin Icebox Cheesecake

It seems as if the holidays are officially upon us. Thanksgiving is next week (already?), and I noticed today that Santa will be arriving at the mall on Saturday.


This year, I'll try to focus on the aspects I enjoy about the holidays...namely the food. And the booze.

Here is an easy, no-bake dessert that's perfectly acceptable for your upcoming holiday meals. It's quick to assemble & requires overnight refrigeration, so it's great for making the night before a dinner party or family gathering.

Pumpkin Icebox Cheesecake

16 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
15 ounces pure pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
28 graham cracker sheets
2 cups pecans, toasted & roughly chopped
  • Beat the cream cheese and the sugars until smooth. Add pumpkin, half-and-half, salt, spices, & vanilla and beat until smooth and fluffy. 
  • Lay enough graham crackers in a 9x9 inch pan to cover the bottom (break to fit if necessary). Spread a quarter of pumpkin mixture over the crackers. Layer 3 more times, ending with the pumpkin mixture*. Sprinkle with the pecans.
  • Cover & chill overnight before serving. 
*The more layers this has, the better it is. So, spread the pumpkin on as thinly as possible, while still covering the graham crackers completely.

November 10, 2012

Green Curry Stew

I'd never made curry paste from scratch, so I tried this recipe recently. This makes a soupy kind of curry, perfect for serving over rice or rice noodles. Be careful not to cook the stew too long after adding the green vegetables, as they will start to gray if overcooked (as you can see in the photo). 
This is a fairly mild curry, but you can spice it up by adding more peppers to the paste (or using 3-4 serrano chiles instead of jalapenos) and adding more spicy to the finished stew.

Green Curry Stew
recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

serves 4-6

For the curry paste:
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 large jalapeno chile, seeded & sliced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro or parsley
zest of 1 lemon
3 large garlic cloves
2 green onions
2 tablespoons chopped & peeled fresh ginger
zest of 1 lime
juice of 2 limes

For the stew: 
2 ounces spinach (1 cup)
1 can (14 ounces) unsweetened regular coconut milk
1 can (14 ounces) unsweetened light coconut milk
1 cup chicken stock
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced 1-inch thick
2 cups broccoli florets
2 cups haricot verts, cut in half
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • To make the curry paste: Blend all the ingredients in a blender or food processor. (Curry paste can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks or frozen for up to 3 months.)
  • To make the stew: Puree 5 tablespoons curry paste, the spinach, and 1 cup regular coconut milk in a blender until smooth. Reserve remaining curry paste for another use.
  • Bring remaining regular coconut milk, the light coconut milk, and the stock to a boil in a medium Dutch oven or heavy stockpot. Reduce heat, stir in curry-spinach mixture, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the chicken, zucchini, broccoli, & green beans and cook until chicken is cooked through & vegetables are slightly tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, & cayenne (if you want more heat). Remove from the heat & stir in the basil.
  • Serve over cooked rice or noodles.

November 5, 2012

Stovetop Rice Pudding for Emergencies

Dinner tonight was some kalamata olive hummus (via Trader Joe's) with pita chips and a bowl of stovetop rice pudding...something warm and soothing on this cold and dreary pre-election evening.

Rice pudding is traditionally made by either cooking raw white rice and sweetened milk in the oven for a couple hours or cooking the raw rice and milk on the stove, then slowly adding beaten eggs and sugar. I've even seen recipes that call for simmering cooked white rice with milk and spices.

Those recipes have never appealed to me. Rice pudding as always ranked low on my dessert spectrum, right below tapioca pudding. I just don't want chunks in my should-be-smooth-and-creamy sweets. That is, until I saw Nigella Lawson's version.

Nigella, people. That means that this rice pudding is probably the sexiest rice pudding you've ever seen.

The Domestic Goddess's recipe is essentially a sweet risotto (which seems to make a lot of culinary sense to me). Caramel-coated arborio rice is cooked slowly with warm milk gradually added and finished with heavy cream and vanilla. I sweetened mine with honey (instead of sugar) and threw in some spiced rum-soaked raisins at the end.

Stovetop Rice Pudding for Emergencies
recipe & photo from Nigella Bites

Nigella Lawson writes: "For those days when you just can't wait the three hours for proper, old-fashioned rice pudding, this is what you need. In fact, it's just a sweet risotto, with warm milk substituted for the stock. This does mean that the rice takes longer to cook--and what's more, you want it rather less al dente than is usually desirable--but it's the best I can offer. Anyway, you can't, on eating this, resent one moment of your stoveside-stirring captivity."

2 3/4 cup whole milk
1 heaping tablespoon unsalted butter
2-3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup arborio rice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or vanilla bean paste)
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Heat the milk (on medium-low heat) in a pan that preferably has a lip, which will make pouring easier (or give it a couple of minutes in a plastic or glass measuring cup in the microwave). When it's about to boil (but don't let it), turn off the heat. 
  • Melt the butter and a tablespoonful of the sugar in a heavy-based pan. When hissing away in a glorious pale caramelly pool, add the rice and stir to coat stickily. 
  • Gradually add the milk (I added 1/4 cup at a time), stirring the rice all the time, and letting each swoosh of milk get absorbed into the consequently swelling rice before adding the next bit. 
  • To see when it's ready, start tasting at 20 minutes, but be prepared to go on for 35. You may want to add more milk, too (and if the rice tastes cooked before all the milk's absorbed, don't use all of it).
  • When the rice feels as it should, thick and sticky and creamy, take it off the heat and beat in another tablespoonful or more of sugar (or honey), the vanilla, and as much of the cream of you like. Think of this as the mantecatura: the final addition to a risotto, to thicken and add fat-globular volume, normally of butter and grated Parmesan; indeed just add butter if you haven't got any cream in the house.
Serves 1, according to Nigella. But, it's easily enough for 2.

November 1, 2012

Winter Cooking Classes

Kitchen Conservatory's winter schedule is now posted online. To register, call Kitchen Conservatory at 314-862-2665 or register online.

My new menus include a wine pairing class with wine distributor Kyle Harsha (January 12), a rum inspired couples class (January 20), & a pie-baking class on Pi day (March 14). I'll also be repeating my newest kids' class, which will make foods from the Hunger Games (including homemade goat cheese), on February 23.

Hope to see you there!

  • We'll enjoy beer cheese fondue with soft pretzels, local lager with spicy Sriracha chicken wings, fruity Belgian wheat beer with grilled scallops and corn salad, plus creamy stout with chocolate hazelnut cake and vanilla ice cream. 
MATCHMAKERS - Jan. 12 @ 6:30-9:00 (demonstration)
  • Kyle Harsha, of Vintegrity Fine Wines and Spirits, and I prove that it is not which wines to match with food, but rather how to prepare your food to perfectly balance with your favorite types of wine! All of the specific wines will be hand-selected by Kyle from small batch wineries. Enjoy an outrageous evening, starting with truffled popcorn to highlight the butteriness of chardonnay, aromatic sautéed lemon grass & lime shrimp with riesling, seared beef tenderloin with mushroom-cabernet sauce paired with cabernet, plus stilton, pears, and dark chocolate truffles served with port. 
DATE NIGHT FOR COUPLES: READY TO RUM-BLE - Jan. 20 @ 5:00-7:30 (hands-on)
  • Learn to prepare coconut bisque with rum flambé, macadamia-crusted scallops with rum beurre blanc, jerk pork tenderloin with spiced rum glaze, Caribbean rice, mini-hot buttered rum cheesecakes with caramel sauce, plus a piña-limonada cocktail.
HEIR AND A PARENT: THE HUNGER GAMES - Feb. 23 @ 10:30-1:00 (hands-on)
  • Suzanne Collins’s popular book series is filled with vivid descriptions of food, especially the decadent meals eaten by the tributes in the Capital. Learn to prepare some of Katniss’s favorite foods, including District 11's crescent moon poppy seed rolls, Prim's goat cheese-basil bundles, The Capital's chicken in orange cream sauce with steamed rice, Cinna’s honey pudding and Mr. Mellark's sugar cookies. And may the odds be ever in your favor! This class is designed for children, at least 7 years of age, plus a parent. 
CALCULATING π - March 14 @ 6:30-9:00 (hands-on)
  • The formula for exceptional pie on 3.14 is fairly straightforward, as this hands-on class discovers the ratio of the circumference of the crust to its diameter! Join me to create four stunning pies, including classic apple pie with salted caramel sauce, individual peanut butter-banana cream pies with chocolate crumb crust, poached pear and almond tart, plus coconut key lime pie with ginger-graham cracker crust.
DATE NIGHT FOR COUPLES: SALSA SALSA DINE AND DANCE - March 16 @ 6:00-9:00 (hands-on)
  • Grab your partner and join us for a unique experience of dancing and dining. The evening begins with a one-hour Latin salsa dance lesson with a dance instructor from COCA, that will spark your appetite for an incredible evening in the kitchen. Refresh your thirst with a mojito, as this hands-on class prepares fried corn tortilla chips with black bean dip, grilled shrimp quesadillas with smoked tomato salsa, roasted pork tenderloin with papaya-mango salsa and yellow Cuban rice, plus banana cream pie with chocolate crumb crust.
DATE NIGHT FOR COUPLES: SUSHI U FOR TWO - April 14 @ 5:00-7:30 (hands-on)
  • This class will create tempura-fried shrimp rolls, sesame tuna hand rolls, unagi smoked eel rolls, spicy scallop rolls, hot-smoked salmon rolls with mango and jalapeño, plus ginger-peach green tea ice cream - all served with cold beer.