Friday, September 24, 2010

Sometimes That’s All it Takes

Soup in the Making

Soup and bread and cookies.  Sometimes that’s all it takes to throw a fantastic dinner party.  But you’d better make darn sure you’ve got a sensational soup, brilliant bread and downright crazy-good cookies.  And this menu definitely satisfies all three stipulations:

White Bean-Kale-Chorizo Soup
‘Ralph & Bill Bread’
Cinnamon-Glazed Pumpkin Cookies

Our dinner guest for this simple yet satisfying Monday night meal – my lovely cousin Katelyn, whom you’ll probably remember from a couple other dinner parties.  With busy schedules and lots of out-of-town trips, we hadn’t seen Katelyn all summer.  Luckily, this casual get-together gave us plenty of opportunity to catch up with a good long chat, thanks in no small part to the easy menu, which required no last-minute work at all.  In fact, everything was done and ready to go hours before Katelyn even arrived.  Who wouldn’t love a dinner party like that?!

Gorgeous Red Kale

White Beans & Bay

Let’s start with the soup.  This heartwarming concoction is one of our favorite, favorite soups.  It’s just packed full of all sorts of deliciousness – plump and creamy Cannellini beans, large green curls of tenderly wilted kale, juicy slices of smoky Chorizo sausage, sweet specks of sautéed onions and red peppers.  But best of all, the broth.  The golden elixir is full of delicious, invigorating flavor - smooth garlic, earthy paprika, floral bay, heady saffron, and a tart kick of sherry vinegar, all woven through a savory chicken stock.  Each bite fills your mouth with a rich, full smoothness, and sends a warm wave of coziness through your veins.  The flavor is simply addictive – absolutely luscious and undeniably wholesome, with harmonious hints of spicy, sweet, sour and salty hitting all your taste buds in unison.  It’s at once wholly decadent and fully nourishing.  Just one spoonful, and you’ll instantly feel good about the world.

Pinch of Saffron


Aside from a deep bowl and a big spoon, such a hearty soup as this needs little else.  But a crusty wedge of warm home-baked bread is certainly a nice touch.  Especially this bread, ‘Ralph & Bill bread’ we call it, because like lots of my favorite recipes, this one comes from their kitchen.  It’s actually a recipe from the Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC, but by the time we found that out, the given nickname was already an ingrained habit.  And so it sticks, our favorite bread, forever dedicated to our dear friends Ralph & Bill.  
To be honest, I’m not one to slave away in the name of home-baked bread.  All the kneading and waiting and kneading again seems a little silly when there are more than a couple wonderful bakeries just a quick bike-ride away.  But this gorgeous bread is a complete breeze to make, and so worth it.  You’d never guess, based on the incredible flavor, golden crust and airy interior, but whipping up a loaf of this bread takes hardly any effort at all.  Maybe five or ten minutes of your time.  Active time, that is.  It does need to rest overnight, but you’ll be asleep anyways, so who’s to care. 
  'Ralph & Bill' Bread
There’s a handful of these easy bread recipes out there, like ‘five-minute-a-day’ bread and ‘no-knead’ bread.  They’re getting a lot of attention lately.  I’ve tried a few of them, and I always end up thinking they’re pretty good… for easy bread.  But not compared to the real, knead-and-wait kind of bread.  So as Ralph and Bill baked us up our first loaf, my hopes were not all that high.  One bite proved me wrong though.  And I happily ate my words.  Devoured them, really.  The golden brown crust was crackly yet perfectly delicate, the pale white interior springy and light, the flavor deep and amazingly complex, with notes of honey and earthy yeast.  You’d never in a million years guess that this was one of those ‘easy’ breads.  And you’ll never want to knead and wait again, or even ride your bike to the bakery for that matter. 
Golden Raisins
And finally, cookies for dessert.  And these were some pretty awesome cookies!   They were tender and incredibly moist, with sweet hints of brown sugar, smooth streaks of pumpkin puree, specks of plump golden raisins and toasted walnuts, and a heady aroma of  warm autumn spices – cinnamon, cloves and ginger.  Tiny and round, like golden coins, with a shining drizzle of cinnamon-sugar glaze, these delicious cookies could be eaten by the dozen.  To protect us from that all-too tempting fate, we distributed samples to all our neighbors.  The prompt text messages, emails and Facebook wall posts from our gracious apartment-mates all attest that these are some especially stellar cookies!  Try them for yourselves, and be sure to let me know too, what you think!
Freshly Glazed
White Bean-Kale-Chorizo Soup
Serves  8
My apologies to the original creator of this soup, but I honestly can’t remember where this recipe heralds from.  It’s been in my files since long before I was in the habit of keeping track of that sort of thing.
    White Bean-Kale-Chorizo Soup
1/2 pound dried white beans (such as Cannellini or Great Northern)
8 cups chicken stock (homemade is best, but Swanson’s certified organic free-range     
   chicken broth
is a close second)
1 bay leaf
pinch saffron
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 pound Spanish chorizo sausage, sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded, cored and chopped
1 Tbl paprika
2 small bunches kale, tough stems removed, washed well and torn into large pieces
2 Tbl sherry vinegar
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Soup Ingredients
Place the beans in a large bowl and cover by one inch with water.  Let sit overnight.  Drain the beans, discarding the water.  Transfer the beans to a large soup pot.  Add the chicken stock and bay leaf.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to maintain a low simmer.  Cook, partially covered, and stirring occasionally, keeping it at a bare simmer, until the beans are tender, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  Drain the beans from the cooking liquid.  Reserve both the beans and cooking liquid, keeping them in separate containers.
In a small bowl, combine the saffron with 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.  Set aside.
Heat the olive oil in the soup pot over medium-high heat.  Add the chorizo and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 5-6 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a plate and set aside.  Add the chopped onion to the soup pot.  Season with a good sprinkling of salt and pepper.  Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until tender and translucent, about 7-8 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer.  Add the red pepper and cook about 4 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the paprika and cook, stirring frequently, about 1 minute more.  Add the kale, cooking liquid and saffron mix to the soup pot.  Cook at a low simmer, stirring occasionally, until the kale is wilted and tender, about 20 minutes.  Taste, then season as needed with salt and pepper.  Add the beans and cook again at a low simmer, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.  Add the chorizo and vinegar, stirring to combine.  Taste again, and season as needed with salt and pepper.  Serve hot. 
This soup can be made ahead and kept refrigerated in an air-tight container for up to five days.  Making it a day or two ahead can actually improve the flavor even. 
Bowlfull of Comfort
‘Ralph & Bill’ Bread
Makes 1loaf
This is one of the easiest bread recipes out there.  And one of the most delicious easy-bread recipes too.  The only tricky thing is you’ll need a Dutch oven, one of those heavy duty enamel-coated cast iron pots.  (This is a great brand, but very expensive.  There are many good less expensive options out there too.)  Aim for a size of about seven quarts or so, but a little smaller or bigger would be okay.  Either round or oval shaped will work.
Hot out of the Oven
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water
extra-virgin olive oil, for coating the bowl
wheat bran or wheat germ, for dusting
The night before:  Grease the insides of a medium-sized mixing bowl with olive oil, and set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, yeast and salt.  Add the water and incorporate by hand, making just a few turns of the wrist until everything is combined.  Transfer the dough to the greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest for at least 12 hours and up to 18 hours at room temperature.
The day of (about 3-4 hours before you want to serve the bread): Remove the dough from the bowl and fold it over once or twice, deflating it a bit.  Let it rest for 15 minutes, either on a clean work surface or back in the greased bowl. 
Spread a clean, dry cotton towel on the countertop.  Generously coat it with wheat bran/germ.  Place the dough, seam-side down (although there’s really not much of a ‘seam’ so don’t worry about it) on the towel and dust very lightly with flour.  Cover the dough with another cotton towel.  Let rise 1 to 2 hours at room temperature.
After about an hour or so of rising, preheat the oven to 475°F.  Place the a large Dutch oven (about 7 quarts, either round or oval shaped) with its lid into the oven, and let it heat for at least 30 minutes. 
Remove the pot from the oven, and remove the lid.  Lifting the dough by the cotton towel, flip it into the heated pot, seam-side up.  Cover with the lid and return to the oven.  Bake with the lid on for 30 minutes.  Then remove the lid and bake 10-20 minutes longer, until the loaf is nicely browned and firm to the touch.
Remove the loaf of bread from the pot, and allow it to cool on a wire rack for about 30 minutes before slicing.  Can be kept at room temperature in an air-tight container for up to a day without decreasing in quality too much. 
Cinnamon-Glazed Pumpkin Cookies
Adapted from Crescent City Cooking by Susan Spicer 
Makes about 6-7 dozen small cookies
Cinnamon-Glazed Pumpkin Cookies
For the cookies:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing the cookie sheets
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 cup pumpkin puree (from a can)
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 cup golden raisins
For the glaze:
1 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 + 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup water
Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Grease cookie sheets with butter and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt and baking soda.  Set aside.
Combine the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer.  Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, about three minutes.  Add the egg and pumpkin and beat again for one minute.  Add the flour mixture, and mix on slow speed just to combine.  Then stir in the walnuts and raisins by hand with a rubber spatula. 
Pumpkin Cookie Batter
Measure tablespoon-sized scoops of dough and drop onto the greased cookie sheets, spacing them about 2-inches apart.  Bake for about 10-12 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown around the edges and tops are set.  Transfer to a wire cooling rack using a metal spatula.  Allow to cool to room temperature.
Small Scoops
To make the glaze, whisk together the confectioners sugar, cinnamon and water in a small mixing bowl.  Using a fork, drizzle the glaze generously over the cookies once they have completely cooled.
Lots & Lots


  1. I love easy bread - I make a beer-bread that's super simple and delicious. I am going to try your bread recipe this weekend! It sounds great!

  2. You could use that soup as ransom collateral, if you needed to.

  3. Katie - Your Beer bread sounds pretty incredible too! I'd love to try it out for myself. When you get the chance, would you mind sending it my way? I can't wait! Thanks :).

    And the mysterious ...... - Good thinking. I'll keep it in mind ;).

  4. lovely picture of beans!!! can't wait to try the cookies!

  5. Thanks Dana! They'd make great Halloween cookies :).