Here’s an Idea

Faking It.

I feel that I am at a point in my culinary education where my brain has stopped taking in recipes. As a person who rarely follows them, when I do “use” a recipe it’s only as a jumping point for whatever I feel like doing or creating a variation using whatever it is I have to use up–I’m looking at you truckload of turnips that just won’t stop. I’m now moving into a place where I simply repeat the demonstrated steps & otherwise go by instinct. However, with my ever present need for perfection, I then do a lot of second guessing–rarely with positive results.

Thus, upon our next assignment, I had a bit of panick. We were to draft a recipe–one that we enjoyed and often made at home–in the style of our textbook. The only recipes I generally repeat are the simplest ones–ones where you’d rather not cook, but you should eat at home because you can’t affored the price or calories of eating out…i.e. not suitable for impressing anyone.

And so, I approached the assignment from a different perspective: a method I enjoy and frequently use at home–the use of csa items from last week that I had better use before they turn. This week it was butternut squash and red delicious apples. But wait: conundrum. Butternut squash soup is kind of passe, maybe a little boring, so I had to enliven it somehow. Since I’ve made several variations of said potage, I was up for the challenge of making a new one & trusted my gut that it would work. It did. By roasting the squash first, the earthy, caramel sweetness of the squash shines through. An addition of star anise throws in a different, unexpected flavor, providing a counterpoint to the earthy and the addition of chicken stock provides a heartiness that water or vegetable stock might not.

Of course, a properly Frenchified soup wouldn’t be a properly Frenchified soup without some garniture. Luckily we’d had grits that morning for breakfast & because of an excess of grity goodness had been prepared (totally by accident….totally…) grit croutons were my go-to decoration.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Grit Croutons

For the Soup
700 g butternut squash (about 1 large) or other winter squash,
       skinned and cut in large dice
2 medium sweet apples, skinned & cut in mirepoix
1 medium red onion, cut in mirepoix
500 mL chicken stock
20 g butter
20 g olive oil
10 g brown sugar
1 star anise
10 g (½ t) Ceylon cinnamon
Salt and Pepper, to taste

For the Croutons
240 mL water
240 mL milk
120 g instant grits
30 g butter
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
Oil, for frying

For the Soup

  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Toss squash with olive oil, salt, pepper, cinnamon and star anise and spread in a single layer on a sheet tray. Place in the preheated oven and roast until tender and starting to brown (about 30 minutes), tossing once during cooking.
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepot. Sweat onions for about 1 minute. Add apples and sweat, covered until soft. Remove the lid and allow the collected liquid to evaporate and begin to develop sucs on the bottom of the pan.
  3. Making sure to reserve the star anise, place roasted squash with apples and onions in a blender, adding just enough stock to puree.
  4. Return puree to saucepan along with star anise and brown sugar. Add enough stock to reach desired consistency. Bring to a simmer and cook on low for 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning and remove star anise. Keep warm for service.

 For the Croutons & Service

  1. Bring water and milk to a boil, immediately whisk in grits and ½ t salt. Bring back to boil, reduce heat and cook at a very low simmer, covered, until thick, whisking occasionally to avoid lumps.
  2. Once it is very thick, about 10 minutes, whisk in butter and nutmeg, plus an aggressive amount of salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  3. Pour grits into a 9X3 pan and allow to cool. Once cool, turn grits out onto a board and slice into 1-cm cubes.
  4. Bring oil to 350F and fry grit cubes until golden. Drain on a paper towel. Serve soup in hot bowls, garnished with croutons.

Christmas time is here….

…time for joy & cocktails!

You have waited too long to find gifts for everyone on your list. You could take to the interwebs & satisfy your list in a manner completely devoid of the season’s spirit or you could turn your kitchen into an apothecary for the night & prep libations for friends–or just for yourself, after all, you’ll need them when the family shows up next week.

For Festivus gifts this year, I made a few boozed up garnishes: Maraschino Cherries & Vermouth-Spiked Cocktail Onions.

The simplest way to do this is to find some pearl onions and some sour cherries and soak them in liquor for a few days. But, if you want to get fancy, a few spices and herbs can take it to phase 3, peppering your holiday celebration with spicy, herby, warming drinks to satisfy any lush.

If you had thought really far ahead you could’ve gotten sour cherries when they were in season. But you didn’t. Shame. If you have a Trader Joe’s near-by, however, you can pick up a jar of their Morello Cherries in light syrup. If you can’t find those, I suggest getting sweet cherries & adding lemon juice the solution I’ll reveal below.

For my cherries, I toast a handful of slivered almonds with 2 t whole black peppercorns in  a dry pan. Once the almonds have taken on some color & start to waft with aroma, I pour in 2/3 cup of the jarred syrup (use the rest to make cherry limeades!) combined with 1 1/3 cup Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur. If you can’t find Luxardo locally, any Maraschino Liqueur will work, or in a pinch you could use Cherry Brandy. I bring that to a good simmer and then set it aside to steep.

In the meantime, I’ve prepared some canning jars. The ones I used are Quattro Stagioni 5oz, apparently the Ball Jars of Italy. Cute & a little different than a standard American canning jar, they have a great neck with which to tie a ribbon and are available at The Container Store or online (also available in 8.5oz). After sterilizing them, I put in each a sprig of thyme, a ribbon of lemon peel and a half stick of cinnamon. Then, I divide the cherries among each and strain the concoction prepped above over the cherries. If you find that you don’t have enough solution to cover them completely, pour in a little extra liqueur straight. If you want you can then give them a second boil a la proper canning technique. These make a really delicious Manhattan, the cinnamon adding a warm holiday-infused sweetness to every sip.

For the onions, I basically followed this recipe from Saveur, tied each jar with a pretty ribbon and included a recipe for a Dirty Gibson. But after tasting them, I can tell you to make plenty & then use one jar for a quick dinner: simply sear a piece of fish in some olive oil, remove the fish, tent and then pour the contents of one jar in the pan, reduce it and serve with some roasted cauliflower, maybe a squeeze of lemon over the top. Delicious.

 

a departure

A little out of the norm, but I figure if you care about what you’re putting in your body, then surely you care about what you’re putting on your body.

One of my very good friends has begun marketing her very own line of skincare. With no additives, preservatives, or chemicals of any kind, her products are 100% natural and mostly organic. And, as a bonus, they don’t cost three rubies and the head of your first born to procure–like other such advertised products.

Here’s a sample of some of the merch:

Citizen Cane Gentle enough to use every day, this refreshing scrub made with organic cane sugar, tea tree oil, and organic castile soap purifies, exfoliates, and leaves your skin glowing.

Apple Cheeks This skin balancing toner uses antioxidant rich organic apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil, and rosemary water to purify pores, exfoliate, and promote circulation. It is a life changer for citizens with problem skin. Use after Citizen Cane for optimal results.

Ginger Joe Organic, fair trade coffee and ginger make this scrub (which can also be used as a five minute mask!) the ultimate pick me up. Use in a hot shower, and imagine you are taking the coffee bath that you always dreamed of.

The Balm Rich in vitamins A,E, and C, this soothing, lavender scented balm is a wonderful all purpose moisturizer. It is also particularly good at treating minor skin irritants like diaper rash.

Check out Naturalized Citizen today & get your face on!

pie-a-palooza!

I didn’t win. My former victory has been tarnished by sad defeat.

At least my detailing was noticed, as the judges heralded the unparalleled beauty of my pie. I overheard one judge whispering to another in doubt that I’d made the apple chips that garnished the top (I had). I think my downfall came in the form of palates not accustomed to the heavy amount of cinnamon I’d used to honor the pie’s of my ancestors (i.e. my great grandmother’s fried apple pie filling).

Still, if you ask me, my pie was über delicious. My opinion as to why the winning pie conquered: it was served still warm, fresh from the oven. Kudos to you, friend baker–this round is yours, but next year, the jig is up!

As for my creation, what I learned from myriad apple tastings was that flavors of apples vary from farm to farm. A.K.A., the Galas from Red Jacket Orchards taste nothing like the Galas from Migliorelli Farm. For my test pies, I ended up combining scraps from the latest tasting. The (not surprising) revelation here is that using multiple varieties of apples elicits a more complex flavor & because I was making a smashed apple pie, the texture wasn’t of great concern. The conclusion: don’t feel bad about buying one of each variety available to you. Hold your own, secret tasting and then use the bulk to make a pie for the family who loves you:

Shmapple (Smashed Apple) Pie with Pumpkin-Oat Streusel

For the Filling
3 ½ lbs. of apples, peeled and diced (a good mix works best here. I used Winesap, Gala, Empire, Mutsu & Keepsake)
1/3 cup Apple Cider
2 tablespoons Butter
¼ cup Granulated Sugar
pinch of Salt

1 tablespoon Cinnamon (I used 2 tsp. of Ceylon and 1 tsp. of Cassia, but whatever you have will work)
1 tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 tablespoon Cognac

For the Topping
2 cups finely diced Pumpkin (from 3 lb. sugar pumpkin)
1 cup Rolled Oats
¼ cup Butter, melted
pinch of Salt
½ teaspoon Cinnamon
½ cup Brown Sugar
2 tablespoons Flour
1 teaspoon Lemon Zest

Prepare the Filling
In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, slightly brown the butter over medium heat. Toss in the apples, cider, sugar and salt and, with the lid on, bring to a simmer. Turn down the heat until the mix starts to look very juicy. Remove the lid and keep the apples on a low simmer, stirring occasionally until they become very thick. (Some of your apples will break down on their own; others you might have to coax with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon.) This could take anywhere from 30-60 minutes, depending on the juiciness of your apples (mine actually took about 3 hours, because I let it cook very slowly, while I did other things around the house). When it’s somewhere between applesauce and apple butter, you’re there. You should be able to drag a wooden spoon through it and the ‘dam’ should almost hold. Take it off the heat and add the last three ingredients. Set aside. At this point you can taste it. If you think it needs to be sweeter, add more sugar, if you think it’s too sweet, add a bit more lemon. If you think it needs more complexity, maybe add a few dashes of Angostura bitters (which I did).

Prepare the Topping
Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.

Build your Pie
Use your favorite pie crust recipe or this one (minus the coconut) for the bottom crust, adding ½ tsp. of cinnamon to the dry ingredients and substituting Cognac for the Rum & Apple Cider for the water/coconut water.

Fill the bottom crust with the prepared apples and spread evenly. Gently scatter the topping over the entire pie. Bake in a 400º oven for approximately 35-40 minutes, until the crust is browned and the pumpkin has begun to caramelize. Let cool before slicing.

the dregs

So, I really think you should follow my advice and pipe any leftover meringue straight into your mouth.

It’s delicious.

However, if you’re not so inclined, you can make meringues.

Throw all your leftover meringue in a ziplock, snip the tip, and pipe into rosettes or crosses or whatever shape you want. Get creative. I wish I’d thought to be more creative, but I just did rosettes.

Of course you can just dollop them straight from the bowl if you don’t feel like ziplocking it. You can also add more flavor. For mine, I sifted in a tablespoon of cocoa and a teaspoon of real cinnamon.

A note about real cinnamon: my mother found it at The Spice House in Chicago. Most of the cinnamon we get in America is cassia, which is fine; but, true cinnamon, aka ceylon, is like cinnamon but with more depth and a slightly smoky essence. It’s really fantastic in all of cinnamon’s savory turns, and it adds a bit of ‘hey, what’s that extra oomph!?’ to the sweets. You can buy some Ceylon here.

Throw them in a 200 degree oven for about 3 hours then leave them in the oven until they’re cool. If they soften up, you can just throw them back in a low oven for several minutes. If you have some leftover icing lying around, or even some Nutella, you can spread it on, make sandwiches and then, BOOM, you have macarons–the chi chi sweet snack of the moment.

You’re welcome.

when life gives you eggplants…

Invite friends over for brunch!

So, I didn’t join my neighborhood CSA this year. I didn’t love the quality last summer and wasn’t prepared to make that commitment again.

However, I’ve joined Basis: Good Food to You at the recommendation of a friend, and received my first shipment last Friday. Above, you’ll see too many eggplants for one household to consume in one week. However, my shipment came with a recipe card for “Eggplant Tartare.” Now, I’m not really sure why they called it a tartare–maybe because the finished product is soft and unctuous, earthy and creamy and with the addition of tomatoes and parsley also bright and herbaceous.

The recipe excited me because, while the shipment didn’t come with tomatoes, I’d just made an impulse purchase at Wednesday’s farmer’s market and wanted a fun way to showcase my ground husk tomatoes. Funnily enough, ground husk tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family–same as eggplants, tomatillos, etc. They’re little, not sticky when you peel back the paper and they pop in your mouth with a sweet grape tomato flavor, but as if infused with a tropical pineappley aroma.

To prepare: sear cubed eggplant, unsalted, in plenty of olive oil–don’t crowd the pan (work in batches, people). I used those two striated ones in the pic above. Once they were nicely browned, I salted them & thew them in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes–until they were thoroughly soft. Then I tossed in the whole tomatoes–if you use cherries or grapes, you might want to halve them first–and plenty of black pepper. Since I used cast iron, the residual heat cooked the tomatoes just right, softening them, a few popped–I then stirred in a mess of parsley and plated, topped with a poached egg.

Toss back a bloody mary and butter a slice of toast (rustic fig and walnut bread if you’re lucky) and brunch is served.

have you ever had a tomato?

I totally stole this picture. It's completely gorgeous and I couldn't resist. Click it to see the original. (Thanks, Rebecca!)

Unless you’ve gotten a farm fresh, peak of season one, preferably of an heirloom variety–my wager is that you have not.

Inspired by Season with Reason, and by the smell of ripe tomatoes that smack you in the face when warm days turn into warm nights, I made a sort of panzanella (that’s bread  & tomato salad for you ‘what the what is panzanella?’ lot).

Panzanella is best made with juicy, perfect heirloom tomatoes and leftover rustic bread. But when you have juicy, perfect heirloom tomatoes you can use leftover hot dog buns and it will still be delicious. Which is what I did.

Three hot dog buns, charred on my cast-iron grill, sat to dry out while I whipped up 1T olive oil, 2T sherry vinegar, 1t grainy mustard, 1/2t tomato paste, 2t honey, salt and pepper. Then I tossed in a menagerie of tomatoes either halved, quartered, chopped–whatever needed to happen so that they’d all be roughly the same size. I tossed them with 2T minced cilantro, a chiffonade of baby romaine (about 2 handfuls), and 5 minced calamata olives. Then, I folded in the bread, chopped. A simple, lovely, easy dinner for two: the tomatoes were sweet and tart, the charred bread added a bit of crunch and smokiness while the dressing gave a tang bolstered by the tomato paste that lended a lingering deep tomato flavor to complement the bright, fresh, herbiness of the salad.

But, as Rebecca (of Season with Reason) said, the time for great tomatoes fades fast. So find a farm stand, stat. You’ll thank me.