My friend Tas frequently labels my cooking as “gourmet.” While this may or may not be an accurate description (I’m leaning more toward NOT!), I think her encouragement has subliminally planted itself in the part of my brain that takes over in the kitchen, and has led me to be, if nothing else, a bit more daring. And a lot more hungry for dessert.
Lately, Ryan and I have become semi-addicted to the Food Network show Chopped. If you’re not familiar, four contestants are unleashed in a kitchen with a basket full of random mystery items that must be made into a gourmet meal. There are three courses: appetizer, main course, and dessert. After each course, the contestant with the least tasty or least cohesive dish gets “chopped” and goes home. Basket items typically include one type of protein, one fruit or vegetable, and one pre-packaged item (think Ramen noodles in the appetizer round, or boxed mac and cheese in the dessert round). This show has led me to be somewhat creative with the ingredients I have on hand; it’s good practice for cooking techniques, if nothing else.
Tonight, I focused on dessert. In fact, dinner was sort of atrocious compared with the desserts I served. Yes, you read that correctly: dessertS. Plural. I made soup and salad and sliced some French bread for dinner, and served multiple desserts. So sue me.
Fall is really evident around here this week; the leaves are showing their full range of gorgeous color and floating gracefully to the ground, and the temperature- while still decent- is cooler than I’d prefer. When the weather changes like this, I think soup. Since we’ve already had a few batches of cheeseburger soup and chili, I changed it up tonight with a big pot of broccoli and cheese soup. I had made broccoli cheese soup only once before, about six years ago when we first moved in here. Since Ryan was still anti-vegetables at that time, I basically made it for myself. And it was awful. I had no desire to try to make it again; I have a mom and two aunts who make awesome broccoli soup. (Kidding. Sort of). This week, I mentioned broccoli soup, and Ryan sort of latched onto the idea as something he might be interested in trying. While we were in the grocery store on Monday, he picked up a head of broccoli and asked me if that’s what I needed to make the soup. We were going to try it again.
This afternoon I dug out the recipe my mom had given me all those years ago and took my time assembling the ingredients. The process was much easier than I had remembered, and now I’m not sure what I did the last time but my confidence is restored. Here’s how I did it:Broccoli and Cheese Soup 4 Tbsp butter 1 onion 2-3 garlic cloves 3 cups chicken broth 1 potato, peeled and cubed 3 cups broccoli florets 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese 1/2 cup milk plus 1- 1/2 Tbsp flour, whisked together Melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; saute until translucent and soft. Add chicken broth and potato; cook till potato is tender. Meanwhile, microwave broccoli for 3-4 minutes until tender; chop into very fine pieces and add to soup. Add milk and cheese; stir to combine.
Yes. It really is THAT simple. Please don’t ask how I messed it up before.
Apparently, that success fueled my ambition and the pears on the counter grabbed my attention. Several years ago for Christmas, Ryan’s parents gave me a Tuscan cookbook. In the cookbook was a recipe for pears with a Marsala wine sauce. Peanut picked some pears from the orchard for me over the weekend, so I decided to try it. First, I peeled two pears, but left the stems (as sort of decoration). I sliced the bottoms off, and used a fillet knife to remove the cores. Then I placed them in a saucepan with 1/8 cup sugar and two cinnamon sticks, and let them cook over low heat until the mixture boiled. Once the water reached a low boil, I covered them and let them continue cooking (still over low heat) for about a half hour, until they were tender. Finally, I removed the pears from the cinnamon-flavored sugar water and let it cook awhile longer, until the sauce was thickened. Once it was the consistency of a syrup, I stirred in 1/4 cup of Marsala wine. Y.U.M!
I was on a roll; while I’m not a “band-wagon” type of person, I’m in love with the fact that caramel seems to be THE flavor this fall. (Truth be told, caramel is one of my all-time favorites. Our wedding cake three years ago had a caramel filling, and my new favorite cheesecake recipe from last fall was swirled caramel and peanut butter. NOT on the bandwagon, people. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) A few weeks ago, Ryan and I tried a new restaurant in town for lunch, and we ordered dessert afterward: a warm fudge-y brownie with a salted caramel sauce. Let me just tell you: To.Die.For. We left with me vowing to replicate the recipe, somehow, some way. Tonight I just may have accomplished this goal. With a pan of hot, homemade brownies on the counter, I followed this recipe to almost perfectly replicate the sauce we had at the restaurant. Fortunately, it made a whole jarful which is now blissfully chilling in my fridge.
I may or may not have to invent a breakfast recipe to utilize it.