Monthly Archives: September 2012

It’s still more fun than work.

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There’s a picture of my parents at a cider pressing party in the early 70’s. They look impossibly hip, my Dad in his thick rimmed glasses and thick, curly hair, my Mom in a fabulous sweater, her hair nearly white-blonde. It’s New England in the fall, the press is a large wooden barrel and they could be in any fashion editorial today.

I grew up in New England where the scent of apples defined fall as much as the shuffling of crisp leaves was its soundtrack. We ate crisp McIntosh apples daily. Less frequently we enjoyed cider donuts, apple crisp, baked apples and fresh cider. Apple sauce was homemade, pink from the skins and warm from the stove. It was always made with a food mill, with children doing most of the work.

What sounds downright pastoral today was just life, growing up. I wish I had treasured it a bit more, but I’m grateful for having been blessed with the opportunity to take it for granted. It makes the fresh sauce I cook at home that much more special. And using the food mill is still more fun than work.

Homemade applesauce

The mix of apples you use will determine the sweetness or tartness of the sauce. I prefer about 1/3 tart to 2/3 sweet. Try different mixes to find what you like. Ask your local farmer for advice.

Ingredients:

  • 4 Honeycrisp apples
  • 3 tart apples, like Pound
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • Nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon
  • Lemon juice
  • Honey

*Do yourself a favor and buy a food mill just for this! It keeps the skins behind and you don’t have to peel any apples. Plus your sauce will be beautifully pink!

Directions:

  • Core apples. Don’t bother peeling them. Cut them into 8 pieces each.
  • Place apples and cider in a 4 qt saucepan, cover and simmer over medium heat for 10-15 min until really soft.
  • Run apples through a food mill.
  • Return sauce to saucepan and season with 1/8 tsp each of nutmeg, cardamom and cinnamon.
  • Cook over low heat for five more minutes to develop flavors.
  • Add honey or lemon juice as needed.

Strictly off the record.

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Last night I jumped in front of the camera for the first time. After two hours and two recipes – a vinaigrette and cider-braised Delicata squash – we were all hungry and tired, so I threw some together dinner.

Digging through the vegetable bin I found two medium zucchini and a red pepper that had hours of viable edibility remaining. Into the pot they went with onion and garlic, and the last of a container of homemade stock. After a good press through the finest setting of my food mill, I added a good spicy yellow curry powder I had on the shelf. A little butter and cream for richness and the soup was ready to serve.

Honestly, this recipe was never supposed to be published. But, like some of the best food, it was created without a plan – no recipe. We had to rely on taste as the final arbiter of success.

Now enjoy. And if you don’t like how it tastes, change it. Make it better. Then tell me what you’ve done, so I can make it in my kitchen.

Curried Zucchini Red Pepper Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 -2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium-large zucchini, about 4-5 cups diced
  • 1 large red pepper, diced
  • 3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1-2 tsp yellow curry powder
  • Sherry vinegar
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 2-3 tbs fresh cream

Directions:

  • In a 3-4 qt saucepan, over medium heat, sauté onion until softened, 3-4 minutes.
  • Add garlic and cook 30 seconds or so until fragrant.
  • Add zucchini and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until liquid evaporates and vegetables begin to soften.
  • Stir stock into vegetables, add thyme and cook, covered, until vegetables are soft enough to mash with a fork. About 15 minutes.
  • Press solids through a food  mill and return to the stock. Alternatively, purée with an immersion blender or in your food processor.
  • Season to taste with curry powder, a splash of vinegar, butter and cream. A little bite of heat is nice in this soup. Add a pinch of cayenne if needed.

What I haven’t cooked yet.

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Two weeks ago, Dave and Valerie from Sunnyside Farm gave me a Cinderella pumpkin, saying, “We bet you haven’t cooked this yet.” They were right. I’ve cooked Blue Hubbards, warty Peanut pumpkins and dark-green, lumpy, Italian Marina de Chioggia. But I had never cooked a Cinderella pumpkin.

The first thing I wanted to know was how it tasted. Grey and oblong, Blue Hubbards are sweet and rich. If you want classic pumpkin, for pie or soup, Hubbard is the squash for you. Peanut pumpkins, also know by their French name, Galeux d’Eysines, is mild and sugary. The “peanuts” are the result of sugars building up under the skin. Chioggia, on the Adriatic coast of Italy, is known for its candy-striped beets and it’s namesake pumpkin. Sweet, rich, drier and dense, it is the pumpkin of choice for gnocchi.

The Cinderella pumpkin, red and flat, is a French heirloom also known as Rouge vif D’Etampes. It is likely the pumpkin the Pilgrims and Wampanoags served at the first Thanksgiving. It is mild and not particularly sugary. It cooks down into a beautiful bright orange purée. Tasting more like dinner than dessert, I began to think of Asian flavors and dumplings.

Light Tamari soy, sweet palm sugar and rich, toasted sesame oil delivered the asian flavor profile. Purchased gyoza skins were a valuable shortcut for wrapping the dumplings. Riffing on sweet chile sauce (thanks Renee!), we combines Merken Chile Oil, Tropical Spice Vinegar, Lancaster County honey for sweetness and red miso paste for depth. The satiny texture and rich color of the sauce paired beautifully with the cooked dumplings.

And now I’ve cooked a Cinderella pumpkin.

Cinderella Pumpkin Dumplings

Makes 15-18 full dumplings or 25-30 half dumplings.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Cinderella pumpkin purée*
  • 1 tbs palm sugar
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 1/2 tsp Serrano Chili-Honey Vinegar**
  • 1 package round gyoza skins, thawed or 1 package of square wonton skins, cut round with a biscuit cutter.

For sauce:

  • 1 tbs Merken Chile Oil**
  • 1 tbs Tropical Spice Vinegar**
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp red miso paste

*To cook your pumpkin, scroll to the bottom of the directions.

**I’ve been shopping at Sapore again. Substitute Sherry vinegar for the Serrano-Chile Honey. Use a chile infused olive oil for the Merken and add white wine vinegar with a pinch of sugar in place of the Tropical Spice.

Directions:

  • Combine pumpkin purée with palm sugar, soy, sesame oil, ginger and Serrano Chile Honey Vinegar. Season to taste with a pinch of salt.
  • Wet the edges of two gyoza skins or wonton wrappers. Place a teaspoon of filling in the middle of one wrapper.
  • Cover with second wrapper with wet sides faceing. Press together pushing out air. Cut around the filling with a biscuit cutter leaving 1/4” of wrapper outside the filling. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment.
  • OR place a scant teaspoon of filling in the middle of a gyoza skin, wet the edges and fold in half, pressing out the air and making sure the dough seals all the way around without filling squeezing through. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment.
  • Boil dumplings for 3-4 minutes, about 1 minute after they float to the surface.
  • Whisk together sauce ingredients and serve over cooked dumplings.

Cooking your pumpkin:

Method #1: Roasting

  • Cut your pumpkin in quarters.
  • Scoop out the seeds.
  • Rub inside with olive or vegetable oil and roast at 400F until the flesh can be easily pierced, through to the skin, with a fork.
  • Remove from oven, let cool, and scrape pumpkin flesh from the skin.

Method #2: Stove top

  • Quarter your pumpkin and scoop out the seeds.
  • Peel the skin with a vegetable peeler or knife.
  • Cut into a 1/2″ dice.
  • Warm 2 tbs olive oil in a large pan or 6qt soup pot, Cook until pieces begin to brown on edges, add 1/4 water at a time until pumpkin cooks down into a smooth puree, mashing as it softens.

Pounding soup.

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My Mom gave me a small photo album on my 21st birthday. In each sleeve was tucked a recipe card, and every recipe reminds me of her. I’ve got Mom’s zucchini bread and her father’s braised red cabbage. She also included her Soup au Pistou. Pistou – which translates to “pounded” – is a French version of Italian pesto without the pine nuts.

With the addition of hard cheese and fresh tomato, pistou is stirred into this Provençal vegetable soup. It’s a perfect way to enjoy the last of the season’s zucchini and green beans. It’s rich with vegetable stock and hearty with the addition of pasta and white beans*.

The card in my book attributes the recipe to my Godmother, Aunt Ali, and to her sister-in-law, my Aunt Barb. Mom has made a few changes of her own, and now so have I.

But I still use broken spaghetti for the pasta. It reminds me of Mom, and that makes it taste better.

*I try and avoid typically over-salted canned beans in favor of soaking and cooking my own. This, however takes time and planning, so the “optional” beans are usually left out.

Soup Au Pistou

Ingredients

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 medium potato, diced
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 whole ribs celery
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs each thyme and parsley
  • 4 cups sliced summer squash
  • 2 cups green beans in 1” pieces
  • 1 cup small pasta, like elbows or broken spaghetti
  • 2 cups cooked Cannelloni or Great Northern beans
  • 1-1.5 cups pistou sauce (see below)
  • Sherry vinegar

Directions:

  • In a 4 qt soup pot, over medium heat, heat olive oil.
  • Sauté leeks for five minutes, add garlic, carrots and potato and cook, covered for 3-5 minutes.
  • Add stock, celery, bay and herbs. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until vegetables can be easily pierced with a fork.
  • Remove celery, bay and herbs. Add squash, green beans, white beans and pasta. Cook for 15 minutes until pasta is al dente.
  • Stir through pistou sauce or serve on the side and allow your guests to add their own.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper, sherry vinegar and butter, if needed, for richness.

Chive Pistou Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup basil leaves, not packed
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 cup Chive Oil*

*You can substitute good olive oil, but Sapore’s new Chive Oil is lightly grassy, adds great depth, and makes this sauce extra wonderful! Stop in or order some online.

Directions:

  • Pound garlic, with a pinch of coarse salt, into a paste.
  • Add basil and pound into garlic.
  • Add parmesan 1/4 cup at a time and pound into a thick paste.
  • Add enough tomato to make a thick sauce.
  • Stir in oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Emotional eating.

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My birthday is not complete without a lemon cake. My Mom made them for me when I was young. Cliff Hunter baked his lemon pound cake for my birthday in 2005, and my husband Jason bakes them each year now, often with homemade lemon curd.

Each of us has strict rules of flavor for Thanksgiving’s stuffing and mashed potatoes, green bean casseroles and Acorn squash based on the dishes that came from our mothers’, grandmothers’, and aunts’ kitchens.

For some of us it’s not summer until we bite into the first ripe tomato or ear of fresh corn. Others can’t imagine New Years without braised greens and black-eyed peas. Christmas would not be complete for me without Polish pierogi filled with cabbage, potato and cheese, or prunes.

All food tastes better with emotion. Think beyond fear, pain and stress. That’s just Twinkies and pizza good. It’s joy, peace, love and hope that elevate fine foods, however simple, from delicious to memorable. And it is those foods that we enshrine in tradition.

Golden Honeycrisp Salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 Honeycrisp apples, cut in matchsticks
  • 1 golden beet, cut into slivers

For dressing:

  • 1 shallot
  • 3 tbs goat cheese
  • 1/4 cup Serrano Chile Honey vinegar*
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 cup Arbequina olive oil*
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp mint, chopped

*Serrano Chile Honey Vinegar is a new favorite from Sapore Oil and Vinegar near Eastern Market in DC. The vinegar is actually fermented honey. You can substitute Sherry or Cider vinegar. Arbequina is a grassy, Spanish olive oil. Substitute any good quality olive oil.

Directions:

  • Make dressing: whisk together shallot, cheese, vinegar and cumin, a pinch of salt and pepper.
  • Whisk in olive oil in a thin stream and season to taste with honey and mint.
  • Toss together apples and beets. Toss with dressing.
  • This salad is definitely better dressed lightly.

I’m still wearing white shoes.

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*Sincere thanks to Jenny Lehman for this beautiful photo of the soup she made at home from this recipe.

Spring and fall in Washington easily compensate for summer’s most humid days and the city’s damp, insipid attempt at winter. One of the great joys of these seasons is their length. In New England, where I grew up, spring announces itself with a six-week flurry of daffodils, Forsythia and Rhododendron that fade as quickly as they arrive. DC’s season’s last months, lingering over spring flowers and the long change to autumn, marked by crisp leaves, bright mums and jaunty scarves and caps.

Why force it then? I’m puzzled by the appearance of pants and sweaters on the first 75 degree day in September while I’m still enjoying the end of summer in shorts and a tee. I feel the same way about food. Hearty soups are inappropriate on a warm, humid day no matter what date the calendar marks.

Presented with the year’s first Delicata squash, I wanted to serve up a soup that was light and celebrated this cultivar’s sweet, floral notes*, saving rich, sugary Hubbards and Kabocha’s for colder weather. A double stock, flavored with anise-y fennel, the season’s last tomatoes and earthy Shitakes bring out the lighter notes in Delicata. Using the seed mass beefs up the squash taste. This soup delivers so many layers of flavor, for so little work, the first bite caught me by surprise. Farm-fresh butter adds welcome richness. In a rare decision, we left out vinegar. Even rich balsamic dulled Delicata’s delicate sugars.

*”Seriously, floral notes and light sweetness? Next you’ll be telling me about lingonberry accents in my Pinot.” My parents and I actually conducted a squash tasting at home one night. That’s just how we roll.

Delicata Squash Fennel Soup

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1-1.5 cups fennel stems and fronds
  • 2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 4-6 Shitake mushrooms, stems and caps
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 6 parsley stems, about 3″ each
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 Delicata squash, peeled, seeded and cut in 1” cubes. Seed mass reserved.
  • 1-2 tbs butter

Directions:

  • While you chop the squash and onions, simmer the vegetable stock with fennel, tomatoes, mushrooms, herbs and bay leaves for 20-30 minutes.
  • Warm oil in a 4qt soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and cook one minute until fragrant.
  • Add squash and sauté 5-7 minutes.
  • Strain the stock into the vegetables and cook until squash is easily pierced through with a fork or tip of a knife.
  • Purée soup in a food mill or with an immersion blender. I prefer a food mill for this soup because of the smoother purée it produces.
  • Season to taste with butter, salt and pepper.

Take out takeout.

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I love Asian food. Much to my husband, Jason’s, regret, I could eat it every meal of every day. If I had to pick favorites, they would be mú xī pork, tom yum soup and Thai eggplant. In pursuit of better health and frugality, I want to know how to make these at home.

It’s easier said than done. I’ve tried five recipes each for mú xī’s combination of cabbage, egg and pork wrapped in light, wheat flour pancakes, and the spicy, bright flavors of lemon grass, kaffir lime, cilantro and stock I’ve downed in bowl after bowl of tom yum. All to no avail.

Last week, after three dinners in a row of Thai eggplant, I finally cracked the code. Extra palm sugar and soy help lift and balance the earthy bitterness of the eggplant. Thai basil, chili oil and vinegar make it bright. Red peppers and shitake mushrooms give depth of flavor.

Now back to work on the other two*. Sorry honey.

*I’d welcome any suggestions on these two dishes! The sooner I get them right, the sooner Jason gets to stop eating my attempts week after week.

Stir Fried Eggplant

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbs peanut oil
  • 4 cups Thai or Japanese* eggplant cut in 1.5” cubes
  • 2 cups thinly sliced Shitake mushrooms
  • 1 medium red pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup Thai or Italian (common) basil, not packed

Sauce:

  • 2 tbs each soy sauce
  • 2 tbs palm sugar*
  • 1 tbs fish sauce
  • 1 tbs Merken Chile Oil*
  • 1 tbs Serrano Chile Honey Vinegar*
  • 1 tbs cornstarch

*Substitutions: Yes, there are a lot of ingredients here, and many you may not have on hand. Here are some easy substitutes. Thai eggplant are small and thin. You can cube a large, Italian eggplant and use that instead. Palm sugar tastes identical to Maple sugar. You can use brown sugar too. Merken Chile Oil and Serrano Chile Honey Vinegar are both from Sapore in DC. I’ve gone through two bottles of the Serrano Chile Honey Vinegar since Renee introduced it a month ago. Order them online, or use chili oil and rice wine vinegar from the Asian section of your grocery store.

Directions:

  • Heat 2 tbs peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add eggplant and cook approximately 5 minutes until softened and golden. The eggplant will look translucent. Remove from pan.
  • Reduce heat slightly, add remaining tbs peanut oil in same skillet and add red pepper and Shitakes. Cook 3-5 minutes until softened.
  • While mushrooms and peppers cook, whisk together the sauce ingredients in a separate bowl with 1/4 cup warm water.
  • Add garlic and return eggplant to pan. Cook 1 minute.
  • Whisk sauce and add to pan. Stir with ingredients until it is reduced and coats the vegetables.
  • Add basil, stir through. Season to taste with white pepper and serve.