Friday, February 5, 2010

From books and movies to food

In the last few days I have written about movies and books (one of my goals for the year being to write about each book I read and film I watch), so I think that it is time for a food post.

Several days ago, when there wasn't much in the way of dinner suitable food in the house, I made a late night pilgrimage to the grocery store in search of sustenance.  I wasn't much interested in cooking, so I was considering a terribly wholesome meal along the lines of Robust Russet Cape Cod potato chips and medium cheddar cheese, but as I made the short drive to the local supermarket, I remembered that the store has prepared meal offerings which might be a somewhat more nutritious and satsifying alternative.

I still came home with the cheese and potato chips, which will most likely be staples of my diet for the rest of my life no matter what health questions they may raise, but there was also a container of vegetarian minestrone (which I have heard might be a bit of a redundant term) in my handy dandy reusable grocery bag.

As with most prepared meals, the vegetables in the soup had been cooked to the point of dissolution into the broth, so I rummaged in the refrigerator's vegetable bin and came up with a slightly wilted carrot and stalk of celery as well as a presentable zucchini to chop up and add to the ready made concoction.  A few minutes of simmering, and I had a tasty meal, with enough left over for lunch the following day.

Thus minestrone became my next cooking quest.  The Italian cookbooks on my shelf didn't offer any recipes which made me say to myself, "This is it!  I simply must prepare this recipe," so I wandered into cyberspace to see if I could find a more inspiring alternative.

My minimal exposure to the Food Network has made me a fan of Giada de Laurentiis, so I started with a Google search for Giada and minestrone.

The first result in the list was Winter Minestrone, and the second was Fish Minestrone with Herb Sauce.

Neither recipe was terribly complicated, and each sounded tasty, so I ended up trying them both.

Not surprisingly, I made a few substitutions and adjustments based on what I already had on hand.  I used homemade turkey stock rather than beef broth or chicken broth.  The winter minestrone got a half a cup or so of Merlot that I wanted to use up, and the fish minestrone got a about a cup of Riesling because I think that I have decided that most any non cream-based soup needs a bit of wine.  It makes all of the flavors meld so nicely.

I had bacon, so I used that for the winter minestrone rather than buying pancetta, and ended up reducing the amount of olive oil while I was at it.

Snapper was not readily available for the fish minestrone, so I went with haddock, and I didn't have the fresh ingredients for the herb sauce, so I made a bit of paste with the dried counterparts and stirred it into the whole pot rather than doling it out with individual servings.

One substitution I did not make because I wanted to make the soup the same day that I bought the ingredients was dry beans for canned beans.  I generally prefer dry beans even though they require soaking and cooking because I don't like the extra stuff in the can with the beans.  The garbanzos for the fish minestrone weren't to bad, but the white kidney beans for the winter minestrone had a rather unpleasant slime on them from.  Luckily a good portion of it insisted on sticking resolutely to the bottom of the can, so rinsing wasn't too much of an ordeal.  Still.  Ick.  Dry beans and planning ahead hence forth.

Canned bean slime aside, the end result was two satisfying soups to chase away the winter chill.

Less successful, however, was the second attempt at the chocolate cake described near the beginning of The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz.

The first attempt was on Christmas Eve.  I dutifully followed the directions of baking for 35 minutes because of the added directive "Do not overbake."  Everything looked fine when I took it out of the over ... and twenty minutes later, I had a crater which crumbled to dust when touched.

This time around, I baked the cake for about fifty minutes.  It was still not nearly long enough, but at least the thing is edible this time.

Third time's the charm, right?  Perhaps for Easter.  Or the next time we have guinea pigs, er, guests.  In the meantime, I think I shall continue to focus on cooking rather than baking, except perhaps for bread, which I seem to be able to produce with reasonable consistency.


  1. Can you be more specific about which Lebovitz chocolate cake recipe? He has several listed.

  2. In my hardcover copy of the book, it is on pages 35 and 36. Gateau Therese Chocolate Cake it's called. Does that help? Reproducing the entire recipe might not be the most copyright friendly course of action.

  3. This helps. Thanks.