Monthly Archives: October 2012

Pumpkin quesa-different.

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Photograph by Sam Armocido

Think of your favorite recipe. The one you’ve made for years. It’s flavors are burned on your tastebuds. You can recreate it from sense memory. Go into your kitchen and prepare it, writing down each step and each ingredient. Grab the cookbook off the shelf and let it fall open it to the familiar, splattered and stained page.

Surprise.

Even the recipes we know best change over time as our palates and our dinner partners, the markets we shop from and the popularity of ingredients evolves. Bland canned tomatoes give way to San Marzanos, or fresh stewed. Cayenne is replaced with smoky chipotle, ancho or complex Piment d’Espelette. Children demand simpler flavors, new boyfriends or wives shape your meals with their own experiences and preferences.

One year ago I served up sausage and pumpkin quesadillas. This year the heavy blend of cumin, chile powder and Spanish paprika overpowered the sweet hearty Hubbard squash. Chopped tomato brightened the rich flavors with sweetness and acidity. Savory andouille sausage was replaced with equally spicy but less earthy Mexican chorizo.

Change isn’t always good or bad. Sometimes it’s just different. Fortunately in the kitchen, it’s usually delicious.

Pumpkin Chorizo Quesadillas

*A pizza cutter is the best way to slice quesadillas. A knife pushes all the filling out.

Photograph by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 links Mexican (uncooked) Chorizo
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 2 cups Hubbard or acorn squash purée*
  • 1 tsp Spanish paprika
  • 1 tsp Serrano Chile Honey vinegar**
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 tomato, seeded and diced
  • 10-12 6” tortillas

*For squash puree, split and roast squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet, at 400 degrees. When flesh can be easily pierced with a roasting fork, like soft butter, it is done. Let cool, scrape pumpkin from skins and mash.

**I still can’t get enough of this vinegar from Sapore. You can substitute sherry vinegar and 1/2 tsp honey.

Directions:

  • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 12″ skillet at medium. Remove casings from chorizo and brown meat, crumbling a it cooks. Remove meat with a slotted spoon when fully cooked.
  • Add oil, if needed, to make up 2 tbs fat in the pan, and sauté onion.
  • When onion is soft, add squash purée and heat through. Season with paprika, Serrano Chile Honey vinegar, salt and pepper. Mix sausage into squash.
  • Assemble quesadillas on top of 1 tortilla, layering cheese, squash mixture, diced tomato and finally topping with more cheese and a second tortilla.
  • Cook quesadillas over medium heat, lightly browning both sides. Slice and serve.
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Earthy and French

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Photograph by Sam Armocido

God did just fine creating cauliflower. Pure, creamy and white, it needs nothing more than a quick steam before  tossing with salt, pepper and farm-fresh butter. That, however, is not the shortest path to impressing you with my culinary creativity. So, last week in the test kitchen we were faced with a decision: sweet and Indian or hearty and French? We stayed up until 1 AM and tried both. Here’s effort number one.

Cauliflower provides the comforting weight of potatoes with a mouth feel as light as zucchini or yellow wax beans. We found earthiness and luxury in Crimini mushrooms, sliced and sautéed, finished with thyme and white wine. Yukon Gold potatoes, relatively low in starch, gave heft without weighing our stew down. We needed depth, and found it in garlic and anchovy paste. A spicy, robust olive oil finished the stew richly.

We had achieved cauliflower stew Nirvana: hearty enough for a cold, damp fall night, but light enough that we weren’t crawling to bed from the dinner table.

You’re freaked about the anchovy paste, aren’t you? Your nose is wrinkled in disgust at the thought of that fishy, salty brown paste, oozing like toothpaste from a tube. Anchovy paste adds necessary layers of flavor in a dish that might otherwise feel one-dimensional. You won’t taste it. It’s one of those perfect stealth ingredients, delivering lots of flavor without getting caught. So go ahead, squeeze a little in, and don’t tell your kids or your picky eater of a boyfriend. They’ll never know.

Hearty Cauliflower Mushroom Stew

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs butter
  • 2 cups sliced Crimini mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup dry Vermouth
  • 1 tbs chopped, fresh thyme
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp anchovy paste
  • 3 Yukon Gold potatoes*, in 1/2” dice
  • 3 cups vegetable stock (here’s a quick and simple recipe)
  • 1/2 head cauliflower, cut in florets
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 tbs Moresca Olive Oil**
  • Nutmeg

*This past weekend, Dan at Agora Farms introduced me to the Eva potato. Named after the mother of the Cornell researcher who developed it, Eva is creamy and white, with bold flavor (who knew potatoes could have flavor?!) and medium starch. They make a perfect, creamy mash, just sayin’…

**Sapore’s latest introduction, Moresca is a bold, spicy oil perfect for dipping bread, tossing with pasta, arugula and walnuts and gave great depth as a finish to this stew.

Directions:

  • Melt butter over medium heat in large sauté pan. Sauté mushrooms until golden brown on edges. Deglaze with Vermouth. Season with thyme, salt and pepper. Reserve.
  • Heat olive oil in same pan. Sauté onions until translucent, add garlic and anchovy paste and cook 30 seconds.
  • Add potatoes and cook until onion begins to brown on edges.
  • Stir in the stock, cover and cook until potatoes have started to soften.
  • Add cauliflower and fresh thyme. Cover and cook until cauliflower is crisp tender.
  • Uncover and let broth thicken. Season to taste with Moresca oil, salt, pepper and nutmeg.

The pumpkin whisperer.

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Photo by Sam Armocido

Good food starts with good ingredients. Like “haste makes waste” and the Lord’s prayer,  this simple truism about food is fixed in our minds, but its meaning is rarely considered. So is the fact that the best recipes begin with thoughtful consideration of the ingredients we use.

Galeux d’Eysines is a pale, peach-skinned pumpkin covered in peanut-like warty growths. Those “peanuts” are the result of abundant sugars building up under the skin. The dense, bright-orange flesh is relatively non-fiberous, delivering the smoothest purée of any pumpkin I know and, though sugary-sweet, the flavor is delicate.

While hearty Hubbard squash and Marina de Chioggia pumpkin inspire rich recipes, the peanut pumpkin wants a lighter touch: a stock infused with its flavorful seed mass, savory boar sausages and mildly-earthy, sweet Shitake mushrooms deglazed with dry Madeira wine.

Being the pumpkin-whisperer probably won’t get me my own television series, but it did deliver a spectacular soup recipe. And that’s far more important, isn’t it?

“Peanut” Pumpkin Sausage Soup

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 6-8 Shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced, stems reserved
  • 3 cups Galeux d’Eysines pumpkin purée, seed mass reserved
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 Wild boar sausages, casings removed*
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup Madeira or brandy
  • 1 tbs chopped, fresh thyme
  • Fig Balsamic Vinegar*

*If you can’t get to Canales Quality Meats at Eastern Market in DC, grab a pork and sage sausage, or just a pork sauce and mix in some dried sage leaves. Fig Balsamic should be on the shelf at your grocery store, but you can definitely order this really good stuff from Sapore Oil and Vinegar

Directions:

  • Simmer stock in a 2-3 qt saucepan, for 20 minutes, with the Shitake stems, pumpkin guts, bayleaf and thyme sprigs.
  • Meanwhile, in a 4 qt soup pot, brown sausage in 2 tbs olive oil. Breaking it up as it cooks. When browned, remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.
  • Add 1 tbs olive oil and onion to pot and cook until softened.
  • Return sausage to pot, strain in stock and cook for five to ten minutes.
  • While the soup simmers, sauté Shitake mushrooms in 1 tbs olive oil over medium heat. When mushrooms have softened and edges begin to brown, deglaze pan with Madeira, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Add pumpkin purée to pot and cook five minutes longer.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper, and a tablespoon or two of butter. Serve garnished with mushrooms and Fig Balsamic Vinegar.

The best freakin’ cheese sauce ever!

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The day I moved in with my grad-school roommates, we discovered a butter compartment in the refrigerator door. Young and foolish, I complained, “why do they still put these in? Who still uses butter?”*  My roommate replied, “It’s the perfect place to store your Velveeta.”

Nodding, while grinding my back teeth in horror, I thought, “That statement pre-supposes Velveeta is always on hand, like a pantry staple.”I have since learned that one’s taste in gooey, drippy, hot, rich, velvety cheese sauce is highly personal. So, when someone asked what makes this cheese sauce the best ever, I ventured forth gingerly.

Classic Mornay is built on a creamy, smooth Béchamel. It gets cheesy richness from sharp cheddar and balance from sharper gruyère. A splash of sherry (not cooking sherry, please) is everything you loved about the ’70’s, while nutmeg, cayenne, white pepper and salt lend subtle complexity.

Unlike Velveeta, there aren’t many ingredients here, so please remember that good butter, fresh milk, and the best cheese you can afford, really count. No offense to Velveeta. (Or my grad school roommate.)

*I know, I know, I may be the most passionate butter evangelist you have ever encountered. I actually refer to my conversion as “the butter story.”

The Best Cheese Sauce You’ve Ever Tasted!

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbs/ 1.5 oz. butter
  • 3 tbs flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • Nutmeg
  • White pepper
  • Salt
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup Gruyère
  • Dry sherry
  • Cayenne

Directions:

  • Melt butter over low heat in a 1 qt saucepan. Stir in flour and cook for 2-3 minutes being careful not to brown.
  • Pour in milk, whisking briskly to avoid lumps.*
  • Cook an additional 15-20 minutes, stirring often, until thickened.
  • Season to taste with nutmeg, white pepper and salt. Go easy on the salt. You will add more from the cheese.
  • Stir in cheese until smooth.
  • Season to taste with dry sherry and cayenne.

*Warming the milk first reduces the risk of lumpy Béchamel.

#testkitchen

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Where do 4-5 new recipes a week come from? It all starts by chatting with the farmers at Eastern Market as soon as I wrap up my Saturday demonstrations. Learning what will be fresh and bountiful the following weekend, I head home, my canvas bag filled with challenges. Some weeks that challenge is a brand new vegetable, or something that has just come into season. Others, it means trying to figure out summer’s fifteenth zucchini recipe.

After four days of pouring through cookbooks, conversations over dinner and internet research, my husband Jason, our friend Sam and I get together every Thursday night for #testkitchen. For five hours we test recipes finishing each one 3-4 different ways to see what flavors work best.

Last Thursday, uninspired by a basket full of apples, I reached out on my Facebook page. Apple butter and maple-mustard vinaigrette had me drooling, but when our friend Joe – a trained chef who can cook like nobody’s business – jumped on a recipe from Rhetta in Utah, we headed to the kitchen. Swapping guanciale for salt pork, and brightening rich, sweet Calvados with bright, complex sherry vinegar we had a winner.

Join #testkitchen every Thursday night starting around 7PM on Twitter and Facebook. We can always use your help!

Rhetta’s Cabbage with Apples

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 lb. guanciale or salt pork, diced
  • 1 tbs mustard seed
  • 1/2 medium onioin, diced
  • 4 cups shredded cabbage
  • 2 apples, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup calvados
  • Sherry vinegar
  • Optional: 2 tbs cream*

*The cream is mellow and rich, but it will cover the apple and cabbage flavors a bit. Either way is delicious!

Directions:

  • In a large skillet over medium heat, lightly brown guanciale, rendering the fat.
  • Add mustard seeds and cook about 1 minute until they begin to pop.
  • Add onion to pan and sauté until softened. If the guanciale has released less than 2tbs fat, make up the difference with olive oil.
  • Add cabbage and cook 3-5 minutes, turning frequently with tongs, until slightly softened and edges begin to brown.
  • Add apple and cook, again turning frequently, until cabbage and apples are soft, about 10 -12 min longer.
  • Pour Calvados in to the hot pan and scrape up any brown bits.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper* and sherry vinegar. Add cream and cook 30 seconds until thickened if desired.

*Columbus, OH fans, I have a special treat for you. I made this for a dinner party Sunday and seasoned it with Whisky-brined Smoked Black Peppercorns from Spices Ltd. at North Market. Run don’t walk to pick some up and say hi to Ben while you are there (I’m sure he can tell you who at the Market has guanciale.

Serendipity is unpronounceable in German.

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Serendipity occurred Saturday night in a German restaurant. Dipping a bite of weisswurst in mustard, I immediately recognized the same sharp, bitter taste I had battled working with turnips, two nights earlier. Cookbook after cookbook, recommended heavy cream or rich caramelization to balance the flavor. Our test kitchen feedback on Facebook suggested everything from beer-braising to brown sugar.

Wanting something lighter and stove top-friendly, and noting turnips’ starchy similarity to potatoes, we settled on hash browns.

Last fall I failed miserably at hash browns, undercooked centers, burned and blackened exteriors. Squeezing the water out of both potatoes and turnips was step one. Next came that bitter, sharp mustardy taste. Seasoning and sugar didn’t help, we needed fat. We tried cooking them in rendered pancetta fat to no avail. Parmesan helped but they were still off balance. An egg, lightly beaten, finally did the trick.

Back to serendipity. Not just happy coincidence, serendipity is an ah-ha moment that occurs when happenstance is observed with knowledge. The perfect pairing of sausage and mustard brought the realization that these hash browns, served alongside a thick slab of rich, sweet roast pork, would achieve dinner plate nirvana. I know what we’re serving for Sunday supper.

Turnip Hash Browns

*This dish doesn’t look pretty, but it tastes great! Two visitors to my Saturday demo at DC’s Eastern Market last weekend mentioned making turnip latkes for Hanukah. The sour cream and apple sauce they serve along side provided the same balance of sweetness and fat that a thick slice of pork would. Great suggestion, prettier presentation and I can’t wait to try it with some fresh homemade applesauce. Thanks!

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbs brandy
  • 2 medium potatoes, grated
  • 2-3 small turnips, grated
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Nutmeg
  • Cayenne
  • 2 tbs butter

Directions:

  • In a large skillet, over medium heat, sauté onions with a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar until caramelized, 15-20 minutes. Deglaze pan with brandy, scraping up the brown bits and cooking until most of the liquid has evaporated.
  • Meanwhile, wrap potatoes in a tea towel and squeeze the water out. Repeat with the turnip.
  • Mix potato, turnip, cheese and egg with the caramelized onions.
  • Season mixture with salt, pepper, cayenne and nutmeg. Fry a small patty to check seasoning. Adjust to taste as needed.
  • In a clean skillet, Cook over medium heat in a thin layer. Flip when golden and cook until done.