“If you’re going to wear pleats, wear them like you mean it!” This was the response of my dear friend and fellow gourmand, Meg Behl, when I told her about someone I had gone out with who, to my surprise, wore one-pleated pants – something I had not considered in almost 15 years. But her comment made me think about the level of intensity for which we commit to things, e.g., work, school, fitness, family, friends, and food!
These days when I cook for just myself at home, I stick to a bland diet: eggs, veggies, bananas, cinnamon raisin bagels, wheat pasta, and milk-free frozen boxed lunches. Do not be fooled – this is a new diet. In the past, my dailies included such deliciousness as pizzas of all kinds and Philly cheese steak sandwiches. And when I say daily, I mean daily.
However, when I have time to entertain and cook for friends, I like to cook like I mean it! I owe much thanks to my step-mother Madelyn Harris, Peter Nguyen, and Irvin Lin, who inspired this blog post about food due to the launch of his own blog, Eat the Love, and who I will get to see Tuesday. Yay! During the most recent years, these people have cultivated my culinary knowledge and sluggish knife skills; provided direction in menu planning with interesting yet contrasting temperatures and flavors; and helped me accept the fact that the food I serve may not look like the food in the photographs of some cookbooks.
But when I am not being supervised, I owe much thanks to the brilliant recipes of Barefoot Contessa. They are easy to follow, even for an amateur like me. And my food, more often than not, has actually looked the pictures in her cookbooks! Below are my favorite starters, soup and vegetable recipes I have tried: (1) Raspberry Royale, (2) Roasted-Tomato Basil Soup, (3) Chicken Chili, (4) Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread, and (5) Smashed Sweet Potatoes with Apples. The recipes come directly from the cookbooks.
Raspberry Royale (Makes 4 to 6 drinks)
Heaven! And if you do not believe in heaven then believe in this raspberry royale! I served this at a brunch last summer and it was a major hit. Major!
· 6 teaspoons raspberry liqueur
· ½ pint fresh raspberries
· 1 bottle of good Champagne, chilled
Pour 1 teaspoon of raspberry liqueur into each champagne glass and add 2 or 3 raspberries. When guests arrive, pop the cork and fill each glass with Champagne. Serve immediately.
Roasted-Tomato Basil Soup (Serves 6 to 8)
I served this last August for friends at a “last minute summer supper.” It was delicious and spicy. The recipe was perfect.
· 3 pounds ripe tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
· ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons good olive oil
· 1 tablespoon kosher salt
· 1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
· 2 cups chopped yellow onions
· 6 garlic cloves, minced
· 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
· ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
· 28 ounces canned plum tomatoes with their juice
· 4 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
· 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
· 1 quart chicken stock or water
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Toss together the tomatoes, ¼ cup olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the tomatoes in one layer on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes.
In an 8-quart stockpot over medium heat, sauté the onions and garlic with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, butter, and red pepper flakes for 10 minutes, until the onions start to brown. Add the canned tomatoes, basil, thyme, and chicken stock. Add the oven-roasted tomatoes, including the liquid on the baking sheet. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Pass through a food mill fitted with the coarsest blade. Taste for seasonings. Serve hot or cold.
Chicken Chili (Serves 12)
I served this in January for a dinner party for some colleauges. It was unpretentious, delicious and allowed the company to be the main entrée.
· 8 cups chopped yellow onions (6 small onions)
· ¼ cup good olive oil, plus extra for chicken
· ¼ cup minced garlic (8 cloves)
· 4 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and large-diced
· 4 yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded, and large-diced
· 2 teaspoons chili powder
· 2 teaspoons ground cumin
· ½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, or to taste
· ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
· 4 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for chicken
· 4 28-ounce cans whole peeled plum tomatoes in puree, undrained
· ½ cup minced fresh basil leaves
· 8 split chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
· Freshly ground black pepper
· Chopped onions, corn chips, grated cheddar, sour cream
Cook the onions in the oil over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the bell peppers, chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes, cayenne, and salt. Cook for 1 minute. Crush the tomatoes by hand or in batches in a food processor fitted with a steel blade (pulse 6 to 8 times). Add to the pot with the basil. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Rub the chicken breasts with olive oil and place them on a baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast the chicken for 35 to 40 minutes, until just cooked. Let cool slightly. Separate the meat from the bones and skin and cut it into 3/4-inch chunks. Add to the chili and simmer, uncovered, for another 20 minutes. Serve with the toppings, or refrigerate and reheat gently before serving.
Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread (Makes 12 large pieces)
Flavorful, impactful, all kinds of goodness! I served this with the Chicken Chili above. Please note that I modified the original recipe. My version is below.
· 2 cups all-purpose flour
· 2 cups yellow cornmeal
· ½ cup sugar
· 2 tablespoons baking powder
· 2 teaspoons kosher salt
· 2 cups buttermilk
· 3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
· 1/2 pound (2 sticks) salted butter, melted, plus extra to grease the pan
· 8 ounces aged extra-sharp Cheddar, grated, divided
· 1/3 cup chopped scallions, white and green parts, plus extra for garnish (3 scallions)
· 4 oz diced jalapeño peppers
· Small can of Mexican corn
Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, eggs, and butter. With a wooden spoon, stir the wet ingredients into the dry until most of the lumps are dissolved. Don’t overmix! Mix in 2 cups of the grated Cheddar, the scallions and jalapeños, and allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking pan.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and sprinkle with the remaining grated Cheddar and extra chopped scallions. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool and cut into large squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Smashed Sweet Potatoes with Apples (Serves 8)
I think this was the first Barefoot Contessa recipe I ever cooked without supervision … Valentine’s Day 2008. This is also a family favorite.
· 4 pounds sweet potatoes (about 6 large)
· ½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
· ½ cup heavy cream
· 4 tablespoons (½ stick), melted
· ¼ cup light brown sugar
· 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
· ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
· 2 teaspoons kosher salt
· 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the topping:
· 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
· 3 McIntosh or Macoun apples, peeled, cored, and cut into eighths
· 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Scrub the potatoes, prick them several times with a knife or fork, and bake them for 1 hour, or until very soft when pierced with a knife. Remove from the oven and scoop out the insides as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Place the sweet potato meat into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and add the orange juice, cream, butter, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Mix together until combined but not smooth, and pour into a baking dish.
Bake the potatoes and apples for 20 to 30 minutes, until heated through.
Looks like I still have my work cut out for me to try some Barefoot Contessa salad, dinner, and dessert recipes!