Sunday, March 18, 2012

Goodbye Winter (Minestrone), Hello Spring (Almond Cake)

Tired of oatmeal cookies? I bet. Given how long it's been since my last post, I thought I would treat you to not one, but TWO new recipes!!

First up is one I teased awhile back--winter minestrone soup. Now, I know what you are thinking. Soup?! Why in the world would be interested in soup now that spring/summer has sprung?! If where you live is anything like the DC area, it has been nothing but 60s-70s, even 80s, for the last couple of weeks. Despite the fact that we uncovered our patio furniture and spent way too much money at Home Depot yesterday buying planters (and plants) for our front stoop, part of me still thinks that some crazy snow storm is right around the corner. So, you never know....this soup could still come in handy! If you find yourself in the mood for soup one more time this season, this recipe for winter minestrone is a good one to go out on. Easy to make, hearty, and flavorful it is a great all around soup.

Winter Minestrone
Adapted slightly from Giada deLaurentiis

2 TBL olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
3-4 slices of bacon, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ bag (or more) of baby spinach
1 large russet potato, diced
1 (14.5 oz) can of diced tomatoes in juice (I used the garlic, basil kind)
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
1 (15 oz) can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
32 oz low sodium beef broth

1.Heat oil in large pot. Add onion, carrots, celery, bacon, and garlic. Saute until the onion is translucent about 7-10 minutes.
2.Add baby spinach and potato; cook, stirring frequently for about 2 minutes.
3.Add tomatoes and their juices and rosemary sprigs, cook for about 5 minutes until the tomatoes start to break down. Add beef broth and simmer until potato pieces are tender (about 20 minutes)
4.Add beans and cook for 10 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove rosemary stems (needles will have fallen off). Serve with some crusty bread and enjoy!

Now that we've got winter out of our system, let's turn to spring! Last weekend we celebrated my 31st (eek!) birthday by having a few friends over for drinks and dessert. I made my espresso brownies (a tried and true favorite) as well as a new recipe for almond cake with raspberry-apricot jam. I am a big fan of almond flavored desserts in general and when I found this one on David Lebovitz's blog a few weeks ago, I knew I had to give it a try. It was pretty easy--particularly if you have a food processor you can use to break up the almond paste that is the backbone of the recipe. Although you could serve the cake straight from the pan, I decided to give one of David's serving suggestions a try by splitting the cake horizontally into two layers and smearing raspberry-apricot jam on each. I then reassembled the layers and sprinkled toasted almonds and powdered sugar on top. It was insanely good and would have looked just as pretty if I had only split the cake evenly. That's what I get for trying to free-hand it!

Almond Cake with Raspberry-Apricot Jam
Recipe pretty much verbatim from David Lebovitz's blog

1 1/3 cups sugar
8 ounces almond paste
3/4, plus 1/4 cup flour
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 jar of raspberry-apricot jam
1/2 cup of sliced almonds
Powdered sugar for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Grease a 9- or 10-inch cake or spring form pan with butter, dust it with flour and tap out any excess.
2. In the bowl of a food processor, grind the sugar, almond paste, and 1/4 cup of flour until the almond paste is finely ground and the mixture resembles sand.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup of flour, baking powder, and salt.
4. Once the almond paste is completely broken up, add the cubes of butter and the vanilla and almond extracts, then process until the batter is very smooth.
5. Add the eggs one at a time, processing a bit before the next addition.
6. Add half the flour mixture and pulse the machine a few times, then add the rest, pulsing the machine until the drying ingredients are just incorporated, but do not overmix.
7. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake the cake for 60-65 minutes, or until the top is deep brown and feels set when you press in the center.
8. Remove the cake from the oven and run a sharp or serrated knife around the perimeter, loosing the cake from the sides of the pan. Let the cake cool completely in the pan.
9. While the cake is cooling, toast the almonds in a 325 oven for about 5-10 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Set aside.
10. When cake is cool, remove from pan. Split the cake horizontally using a long serrated knife (for tips on how to do this evenly see: Spread half of the raspberry-apricot jam on the bottom layer of the cake. Top with the remaining layer and spread remaining jam evenly over the top. Sprinkle almonds over the top of the cake and dust with powdered sugar. Serve.