Thursday, January 5, 2017

"Beat This! Cookbook" & "Italian Family Cooking" - Savory Bread Pudding & Lentil Soup - New Year's Day 2017

Date I made this recipe:  New Year's Day, 2017 – Breakfast and Dinner

Beat This! Cookbook – Absolutely Unbeatable Knock-'em-Dead Recipes for the Very Best Dishes by Ann Hodgman
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company
ISBN:  978-0-547-43700-2; © 2011
Purchased at Powell's Chicago
Recipe: Savory Bread Pudding – p. 44-45

Italian Family Cooking by Edward Giobbi, with an Introduction by Craig Caliborne
Published by Vintage Books, a division of Random House
© 1971
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift StoresRichfield, MN
Recipe:  Lentil Soup ("Minestrone Di Lenticchie") – p. 21

Oh my gosh, if you have to start a day and a new year with a dish, the Savory Bread Pudding is the way to go.  It was easy to make and delicious!  And to think it was sort of a last minute "Oh what the heck, let me look at this cookbook" decision.  I love it when I get it right like this.

And the Lentil Soup was a great way to close the day, a day filled with football, but most importantly, Green Bay Packers playoff football.  My boys in green and gold prevailed and I was a happy, if not tired, camper.  And I would have said both recipes were "home runs" but as we are not in baseball season, I have to go with the flow and instead dub them "touchdowns."  I love [Packers] touchdowns!

Now I've mentioned before that the great thing about having so many cookbooks is also the worst thing about having so many cookbooks:  indecision.  And when it comes to major holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, there are so many avenues I could take, so many holiday-themed cookbooks to peruse, that I am often paralyzed just by staring at my shelves.  "Where should I go?  What shall I do" is just not for Scarlett O'Hara anymore!

But then this year, I nailed my cookbooks and recipe selections pretty much in one fell swoop and well – how did that happen?  Answer:  somewhat easily for once!

Most of you probably know that on New Year's Day, there are "lucky foods" – foods that will bring you luck in the coming year - and "unlucky" foods, and even though I was pretty sure I was on track for good luck, it didn't hurt to double-check via the internet.

Lucky foods to start off the new year are pork (for eating "high on the hog"), cornbread, legumes including black eyed peas or lentils, and, if you are Spanish, grapes.  Apparently, if a Spaniard can eat 12 grapes every time the clock strikes at midnight (i.e. 12 times), good luck will come to that person.  But as you might imagine, this is hard to do, and since I didn't want to start the new year off by choking to death at my own hand, that custom went out the window.  As did eating  black-eyed peas because try as I might (and I have tried), they do not float my Midwest boat.

So those are some of the lucky foods.  Unlucky foods, and this may crack you up, are lobsters and chicken.  Why?  Because chickens can fly away and with it apparently, your luck!  Also, they scratch backwards and New Year's Day is all about going forward so have those buffalo wings on New Year's Eve and then forget about it!  And since lobsters can also "walk" backwards, they too, are out for New Year's day so best to stuff yourselves on lobster tails the night before.

Also out?  "White" food.   This is an Asian belief as white signifies death in that culture. So does it count that my breakfast dish had "white" bread and "white cheese," and eggs containing egg whites?  Am I okay by adding greens (sign of money???) and sun dried tomatoes?  It's unclear.  Also unclear is whether or not the egg from the verboten chicken started my day off on the wrong foot.  I'm going with "no."

But even if the answer was "yes," I offset the whole curse by ending the day with my lucky lentils in the form of [Lucky] Lentil Soup.  And since I knew lentils to be lucky, all I had to do was consult one of my many Italian cookbooks for a recipe and "ecco" (Italian for "There you go!"), there was Edward Giobbi's recipe just waiting for me to make it and so I did and it was good.  And as mentioned, my breakfast dish was also good which was nice seeing as how I decided on a breakfast recipe at the very last minute. 

So let's break down these cookbooks and recipes, starting with Ann Hodgman's Beat This!  You should know she also wrote Beat That! and I have that book as well but didn't find anything to make this time around.  And I have to confess that I found her Savory Bread Pudding recipe right off the bat and so didn't spend much time looking at the rest of the book, but if you do, here's what you'll find:  "Drinks;" "Hors D' Oeuvres;" "Soups;" "Salads and Dressings;" "Main Dishes;" "Sauces and Accompaniments;" Side Dishes;" "Show-Off Staples;" "Breads and Breakfasts," and "Desserts."

A few observations:  There is only one "Beverage" listed and it's for a Coquito – a Coconut Eggnog.  Well yumm-y!  And it has rum in it?  Sign me up!  The next category is "Hors D' Oeuvres," and look, I know its much more fancy to use the French word for "appetizers," but for the love of "Michel" (Mike) folks, I never, ever spell it right and so can we just all agree to use the word "appetizers" for cookbooks and "hors d' oeuvres" while out at cocktail parties when we want to sound all lofty and impressive?  We can?  Good!

Also, I think I absolutely need to to try the "Slow-Cooker Caramelized Onion recipe (p. 59) under "Show-Off Staples" as that sounds delicious plus you can freeze them which is good otherwise. I'd be tempted to eat the entire quart all by myself.  Like ice cream.  Only not.

Finally, the author must have a sweet tooth because there are more desserts in this book than there are other dishes and although tempting, I was in a breakfast kind of mood.  And the dish was good.  And it called for bacon and not that there is ever anything wrong with bacon, but I substituted prosciutto for the bacon and man, oh man – winner, winner, chicken dinner!  Plus, the prosciutto + sun dried tomatoes + cheese made it a tad more Italian in flavor and that fit perfectly with the Italian lentil soup I made from the Italian Family Cookbook by Edward Giobbi.

I can't recall just when I became aware of author Edward Giobbi and his daughter, Eugenia Bone, but methinks it was probably in the way, way back from an article in a cooking magazine, perhaps Gourmet, but more likely, Saveur.  At any rate, his stuff is great, his recipes, simple and tasty, and also familiar to me; his lentil soup recipe is similar to other Italian concoctions I've made in the past.

This cookbook (introduction by the late Craig Claiborne) is broken out by "Antipasti;" "Soups;" "Pasta and Rice;" "Salads;" "Eggs;" "Fish;" "Poultry and Game;" "Meats;" "Vegetables;" "Sauces;" and "Breads, Pizzas and Desserts."

And I have to give Edward credit in that he includes a "Feast of the Seven Fishes" menu for Christmas Eve even though there's not a chance in hell I would purchase and cook that much fish for just two people.  Plus, one of the dishes includes "Smelt."  If you've never had smelt, and sadly, I have, the only thing fun about smelt is catching it when the "smelt are running."  When that happens, you can pretty much dip a net in the river and come up with a huge haul. But smelt are full of bones and cleaning them is a nightmare and eating them is as well (to me). 

You should also prepare yourself not to be startled by a recipe for "Baccala with Rape."  The word "rape" here is an Italian green, leafy vegetable and "baccala" is the word for cod.  I'm not exactly sure how "rape" (the veg) is pronounced, but it's either "Rah-pay" or "rah-puh". (Similarly, my last name is "Verme" but the "e" is not pronounced here in America and if it is, it's more like "Verm-uh," not Verme-"ee" as most people think. Anyway, it's complicated!)  If you want to make this recipe (p. 104-105) and you can't find Italian "rape" (or "rapa" or "rabe"), use another green such as Swiss chard, mustard greens, etc.

In conclusion, the lentil soup was great (I substituted bacon for salt pork), the breakfast was killer and so does this bode well for the rest of 2017?  I think it does!

Savory Bread Pudding – Serves 4 to 6 – from Beat This!
(Ann's Note:  you need to soak the sun-dried tomatoes for 20 minutes before preparing this dish.)
½ cup chicken stock
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil), finely sliced (Ann's NoteTrader Joe's sells these in a resealable bag)
1 cup milk
½ cup heavy cream
5 large eggs
½ teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
6 slices bacon (Ann's Note:  I substituted prosciutto and it was fabulous.  You'll need to add a little oil to the pan though, before cooking the shallots.)
4 shallots, chopped
7 ounces arugula or baby spinach
1 1-pound loaf crusty bread – peasant, focaccia, sourdough or Italian – cut into bite-size cubes
4 ounces Gruyere, coarsely grated
2 ounces Parmesan, freshly grated

Preheat oven to 400F, with a rack in the middle.  Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or a shallow 2-quart ramekin-type dish.

Bring the chicken stock to a boil and stir in the sun-dried tomatoes.  Remove from heat and let them sit for 20 minutes, until softened.

In a large bowl, beat the milk, cream, eggs and seasonings.

In a large, heavy skillet, cook the bacon, turning once, until crisp.  Drain it on paper towels, then crumble it.  Pour away all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease from the skillet.  Add the shallots and cook them, stirring, until they're beginning to brown, about 6 minutes.  Add the arugula or spinach.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the greens wilt.  Let the mixture cool slightly.  (Ann's Note:  add the bacon to this mixture.  *See below for more notes about the bacon.)

In a large bow, toss together the bread cubes, the arugula mixture, the milk mixture, the sun-dried tomatoes and their liquid and the Gruyere.  Pack this mixture into the baking dish and sprinkle the Parmesan over it.

Cover the dish with foil and bake it for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for about 15 more minutes, or until golden brown.

Ann's Note:  Reader, please scan the above paragraphs carefully.  Do you see her tell you to add the bacon anywhere once you removed it from the pan and crumbled it?  No, you do not.  But the way it reads i.e. "crumble it," suggests that she intends you to put it somewhere in the dish otherwise, she'd tell you to throw it out.  So I made an executive decision and added it back to the pan after cooking the shallots and greens.  And I still stand by my other executive decision to substitute prosciutto for bacon!

Lentil Soup (Minestrone Di Lenticchie) – serves 4 – from Italian Family Cooking
½ cup lentils
½ carrot, chopped
1 whole clove garlic
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped tomato
Pinch of oregano
1 slice salt pork, about 3 inches long and 1 inch wide (Ann's Note:  substituted bacon)
3 cups water (Ann's Note:  nope, more like 5-6)
1 small potato, diced
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese

Put all ingredients except potato, parsley and cheese in soup pot.  Cook gently for 1 ½ hours.  Add potatoes and when they are tender, remove salt pork and garlic.  Serve hot, sprinkled with parsley and grated cheese, to 4.

Ann's Note:  "Serve 4" means it serves four people.  This is a most awkward way to list the serving amount but except for the first couple recipes, this is what you'll find in the rest of the book.

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