Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Broccoli Apple Soup

I’m basking in warm sunshine (through the window) and a happy post-Thanksgiving glow. I am deeply grateful for our family members who traveled to spend the holiday with us and for our time gathered around the table sharing meals together. It was a warm, festive Thanksgiving weekend indeed. I hope you enjoyed the same!

After indulging in a Thanksgiving feast, I find it’s time for some simple food. Perhaps because it’s eaten from a bowl, allowing you to cup your hands around it and inhale its warm scent, soup provides the ultimate nourishing comfort. Soup is soothing and fills you up without feeling heavy ... very welcome after lots of stuffing and pie.

This Broccoli Apple Soup is beloved in our family and Isaac’s favorite. The original recipe comes from our dear friends, Ralph and Jane, two of the most nurturing, caring people I know. They would cook a pot of soup for you in a heartbeat! I’ve played with the recipe just a bit and it has even been mentioned in the NY Times. This is good soup. I recently discovered through Cook’s Illustrated that adding a handful of fresh spinach to broccoli soup pumps up the broccoli flavor and results in a more vivid green color, so I’ve added some spinach to the recipe, too.

Simple ingredients - broccoli, apples, onions, butter and broth - create a satisfying, hearty, comforting meal. You can use any variety of apples you like, just keep in mind they will affect how sweet or tart your soup becomes. I used Aurora apples this last time, crisp with a nice bit of sweetness, and they were quite good. A swirl of thick yogurt to finish adds tangy flavor and rounds out the earthy sweetness.

It’s getting dark early now (4:30pm!), so I see a lot of soup in the coming months, preferably sipped by a fire with a cozy blanket.

Broccoli Apple Soup
Serves 6-8

1 large head of broccoli
3 large apples (Golden Delicious or Aurora are good)
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, diced
6 cups vegetable broth
A generous handful of fresh spinach leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Thick, plain yogurt to dollop (optional)

Cut the broccoli florets off the stalk and set aside. Cut the stalks into 1-inch pieces. Peel the apples, core and cut into 1-inch pieces.

In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and apple chunks. Saute about 6 minutes. Add the broth and the broccoli stalks. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the broccoli florets to the soup and simmer for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat. Toss in a generous handful of fresh spinach and stir.

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with a dollop of yogurt.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Butternut Squash Aigre-Doux

Over the summer, I flipped through Paul Virant’s The Preservation Kitchen while at my favorite cookbook shop and Butternut Squash Aigre-Doux jumped out. I love a new discovery and I decided on the spot that this had to be on my Thanksgiving menu. That was all the justification I needed to buy this gem of a book.

Now, I didn’t actually know what an aigre-doux was, but anything with butternut squash is bound to taste good and I was curious. Aigre-doux is French for sour-sweet, which is always a delightful combination that catches my attention. Fruit or vegetables (think blueberries, asparagus, cranberries or cipollini onions) are cooked with wine, vinegar, sugar and seasonings and transform into something that will make your taste buds tingle.

For this aigre-doux, butternut squash is simmered with sweet onion, maple syrup, wine and vinegar. The original recipe calls for sherry and sherry vinegar, but I used white wine and white wine vinegar instead.

As the rain poured outside, my kitchen filled with a delicious scent from the bubbling pot and all was warm and cozy. When I took my first nibble of squash, it was one of those “oh wow, this is seriously good” moments. The squash is sweet, but not overly so due to the bright acidity of the vinegar. Paul Virant recommends cooking the finished aigre-doux down a bit to form a glaze on the squash and serving it warm on your Thanksgiving table. I will! And I have already served it with soft goat cheese and toasted baguette slices - really, a wonderful combination of flavors and unique way to enjoy butternut squash.

Wishing all of you a warm, happy Thanksgiving holiday this week!

Butternut Squash Aigre-Doux
Makes 4 pints
Adapted from The Preservation Kitchen
By Paul Virant

2 pounds of butternut squash (about 1 large squash), cut in 1/2 inch dice
1 medium sweet onion (I used a Walla Walla), thinly sliced
1 3/4 cups dry white wine
1 1/2 cups maple syrup (I used grade B)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup white wine vinegar

Have 4 clean pint jars ready. In a large pot, stir together the squash, onion, wine, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat to a simmer and cook until squash is fork tender, about 15 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, scoop the squash pieces out and fill the jars. Add the vinegar to the brine left in the pot and bring to a simmer. Carefully pour the liquid into a heat proof pitcher and pour the brine over the squash in each jar, leaving 1/2 inch space at the top. Push the squash down a little to see if you can add more. You may have some brine leftover and can discard it. Screw the lids on the jars.

Pop the jars in the fridge where they will keep up to one month, but you'll gobble them up before that!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pumpkin Pie with Maple Sweetened Whipped Cream

When planning the Thanksgiving feast (or any festive meal for that matter), I often skip over the actual dinner part and think about dessert first. From there, I work backwards to choosing the main course, sides and appetizers. I love to bake, and dessert offers the opportunity to pull out cake tins, sifters, pie plates and rolling pins. While I like to add one or two new treats to our Thanksgiving dessert buffet (check out this Pumpkin-Chocolate Torte I’m making), I do appreciate tradition and I adore pumpkin pie.

One can never have too much pumpkin pie in my opinion. Growing up, I ate my slices of pumpkin pie by skimming the filling off in layers with my fork to make it last longer, saving the crust for last – I can safely say I’ve loved pastry my whole life! I prefer to keep my pumpkin pie simple, with just a hint of cinnamon and ginger. As much as I enjoy autumn spices, I like to taste the pumpkin and find it’s often lost in cloves and allspice.

Pumpkin pie is an American classic. It tastes of holidays, family, warmth and comfort. We discovered through some of our exchange students that pumpkin is often an acquired taste (along with root beer and peanut butter). Creamy, maple sweetened pumpkin custard wrapped in a rich, buttery crust gets my taste buds tingling. And whipped cream is a must – it’s a beautiful sight to see clouds of cream mounded on top of the pie (keep the bowl nearby to dollop on more).

This is Sam’s favorite pie and I must say I can happily eat it year-round. I’m most delighted when I discover leftovers the next morning and can cozy up with a slice for breakfast.

Pumpkin Pie with Maple Whipped Cream
Serves 8-10

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
3-4 tablespoons ice water
2 cups unsweetened pumpkin puree
2 cups heavy cream, divided (be sure 1 cup is well chilled for whipping)
2 eggs
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons maple syrup, divided
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely grated
1 teaspoon cinnamon

To make the pastry, combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the chilled butter pieces and pulse until the butter breaks up into little pieces. Add 3 tablespoons of ice water and pulse to blend. If the dough does not begin to hold together when a small amount is squeezed, add 1 more tablespoon. Turn the dough out onto a piece of parchment paper. Press into a flat disc, wrap up and pop in the fridge to chill while you prepare the filling.

In a mixing bowl, stir together the pumpkin puree, 1 cup of cream, eggs, 1/2 cup maple syrup, ginger and cinnamon. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Have ready a 9 inch pie plate or tart pan. Remove the pie dough from the fridge. Open the parchment paper and lay another piece of parchment paper over the dough. Roll the dough into a round to fit our pan (remember to roll in a few directions, then move the dough around so you are rolling evenly). Peel the top sheet of paper off and, using the bottom sheet, gently invert the dough into your pan. Press in and smooth to fit and remove parchment. If you’d like, crimp the edges in a decorative way.

Fill the crust with the pumpkin filling. Place the pie plate on a rimmed baking dish and pop it in the oven. Bake until the custard is set, about 30-40 minutes (it should be a bit jiggly). Remove and let cool. Serve room temperature, or chill for up to a day before serving.

When ready to serve, whip the chilled cream with the remaining 2 tablespoons of maple syrup until soft peaks form. Dollop and eat!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Cranberry Quince Sauce

My dining room table is covered with cookbooks and old issues (sniff) of Gourmet magazine (love those Thanksgiving editions!). All are open to various recipes I have made in the past or want to try for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. For a few evenings now I’ve had to gather the stacks and move them so we can eat dinner. The books then quickly return to spread out again as I make my menu and shopping list. So many tempting choices for this one festive meal ... why can’t Thanksgiving be eight days long like Hanukkah?

I love trying creative twists on traditional favorites. Cranberry sauce lends itself well to experimenting. Cooked or raw, spiced or simple, cranberries are amazingly versatile and it’s always fun to mix in different flavors and textures.

Something new in my fridge are quinces that I picked up on impulse at the market. I haven’t cooked with quinces before and decided it was time. Quinces are in the same family as apples and pears, but unlike those the quince needs to be peeled and cooked first before eaten (according to what I’ve read, roasted, baked and poached are all good methods). The quince is hard and bland when raw, but when given some heat it transforms into a soft, floral, delicious fruit and the flesh becomes a rosy pink blush (they are high in pectin, as well, so I may try making quince jam this fall!).

When simmered in apple cider, the chopped quinces became fragrant and sweet and I could easily have stopped there and spooned some over pancakes. But I wanted cranberry sauce, so I poured in my fresh cranberries, some honey and maple syrup and started stirring. The lovely pop of cranberries soon began, and as they bubbled away a jewel-toned sauce emerged. I tasted a bit and was pleased with the results – tart with just the right touch of sweetness plus some added texture from the softened quince.

This is a quick sauce to make and cranberry flavor shines. In addition to your Thanksgiving table (or your turkey sandwiches), this would be terrific adorning a cheese plate.

Cranberry Quince Sauce
Makes 2 cups

2 quinces, peeled, cored and diced small
1 cup unfiltered apple cider
12 ounces fresh cranberries
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon maple syrup

In a medium sized sauce pan, combine the diced quince and apple cider and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the quince pieces are soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add the cranberries, honey and maple syrup and increase the heat to medium. Stir often and let cook until it thickens into a saucy texture, about 10-15 minutes. You’ll hear the lovely pop of cranberries! Watch closely to make sure it doesn’t start to stick or burn and lower heat if necessary. I like to make sure some of the cranberries stay whole for added texture. Remove from heat and let cool. Keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sweet Potato Parfaits

It’s November! Which means I am thinking about Thanksgiving. I love to host, and this year we have lots of family coming to town. I can’t wait!

Thanksgiving dinner is incredibly comforting to me. The familiar dishes that I make and eat during this time of year evoke special memories of childhood holiday dinners and now my own family feasts  ... cranberry bread, corn pudding, trays of black olives and gherkins, turkey and, of course, pumpkin pie – I can never get enough pie! In addition to our traditional menu, I like to add a little something new each year, such as a creative twist on cranberry sauce or stuffing.

This year, I have in mind a riff on the sweet potatoes of my youth – a parfait if you will. Sweet potatoes are loaded with healthy nutrients and extremely tasty, so we eat them year-round. When Thanksgiving arrives, though, nothing beats indulging in sweet potatoes with soft, melting marshmallows and a golden, toasty top ... just the way I had growing up. Brown sugar intensified the creamy sweetness of the potatoes and crunchy pecans added texture and nutty flavor.

With these ingredients in mind, I created individual parfaits. Maple syrup sweetened sweet potatoes are layered with cinnamon spiced pecans and then topped with gooey, toasty marshmallows. Making these in small jars or ramekins is quite festive and pretty and feels extra special. You could easily make this in one large baking dish, though. An added bonus is you can make these ahead of time (handy to have the jar lids to use as covers), and then top with the marshmallows at the last minute and pop under the broiler.

Your spoon will shatter the crunchy marshmallow top and slip into a sweet little pot of fall flavors ... pure nostalgia.

Sweet Potato Parfaits
Makes 5 individual servings

2 large sweet potatoes (roughly 2 pounds total), roasted until soft
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup, preferably Grade B
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
8 ounces raw pecans, toasted for a few minutes in the oven and cooled
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, room temperature
10 large marshmallows

Have five small jars or ramekins ready to fill. Scoop the sweet potato flesh out into a medium sized bowl. Mash until soft. Add the maple syrup and one teaspoon of kosher salt. Stir until well mixed and set aside.

Combine the cooled pecans, cinnamon, butter and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the nuts are finely ground and ingredients combined.

In each little dish, spoon in two generous tablespoons of the nut mixture and lightly press down to smooth. Add two to three tablespoons of sweet potatoes and smooth to layer. Repeat the process (you should have two layers of each). At this point, you can set aside to finish later in the day or cover and chill for serving the next day.

When ready to serve, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place jars on a baking sheet and top each serving with two marshmallows. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, until the marshmallows start melting and the sweet potatoes are warm. Flip on the broiler and watch closely until the marshmallow tops are golden brown and crisp. Remove and serve (jars will be hot, so place on small plates or saucers).