Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pumpkin Soup for Halloween

‘Tis the season for pumpkins! Halloween is a much celebrated holiday in our house. Growing up, I would spend the months leading up to Halloween carefully planning my costume ... a joker playing card kept me coloring for weeks in preparation, R2D2 had my father wiring lights for my blinking white cardboard body (my dad’s white motorcycle helmet provided the perfect top!), and on several Halloweens I chose the classic witch.

Halloween has become a special anniversary, too - Bob and I had our first date on this day 25 years ago when we were undergrads together at UCLA. We went to see Fatal Attraction ... quite the first date movie! Walking back from the theater, Bob asked, “So how do you feel about commitment?” and I burst out laughing. He’s kept me happily laughing all these years.

So, with the arrival of Halloween and jack-o-lantern carving, there are many delicious ways to add pumpkins to your holiday celebration. And soup is always a perfect way in my opinion!

I’ve been playing around with this soup recipe for a few autumns. You can use freshly steamed pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin works just fine. Spiced with cardamom and coriander, the soup also has a slight kick from cayenne. Coconut milk makes it creamy, and a surprise ingredient is banana, which adds a bit of sweetness (and provides a terrific way to use those overripe bananas stashed in your freezer).

Perfect to ladle into bowls for your Halloween celebration or to begin your Thanksgiving feast, I enjoy this soup most when cuddled up on the couch with Bob, a warm cup in my hand to sip.

Pumpkin Soup
Serves 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
A pinch of cayenne pepper, or more to taste
2 medium, very ripe bananas, peeled and chopped
2 cups organic, pure pumpkin puree (fresh or 1-15 ounce can)
1-13 ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups unfiltered apple cider
Salt and pepper to taste
Toasted pumpkin seeds, garnish
Chives, garnish
Additional cayenne, garnish

In a large soup pot, warm the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and carrots and stir. Let cook until starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the cardamom, coriander, turmeric and cayenne and stir. Let cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the bananas, pumpkin puree, coconut milk, broth and cider. Stir together and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. When ready to serve, ladle into bowls and garnish with pumpkin seeds, snipped chives and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper. Can be made ahead and rewarmed gently before serving.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Balsamic Grape Skillet Soufflé ... Sort Of

The first soufflé I ever made was Julia Child’s classic cheese soufflé, which was years ago. I loved it, and am a bit unsure as to why I have not made another since then. Plus, soufflé is such a fun word to say - wouldn’t it be marvelous to say, “I made a soufflé today”? Makes me smile.

Abby Dodge’s Bake Together challenge this month is an enticing one. As soon as I saw her Caramelized Pear Skillet Soufflé, memories of soufflé making emerged and my mind began racing with different combinations - quince and cranberry? mushroom, leek and blue cheese? This seemed a tasty way to step out and try soufflé in a new way – in a skillet with caramelized fruit or veggies.

After a bit of pondering, I decided on grapes. Granted, I am not the biggest grape fan, but I just rediscovered the most delicious juice ever – unfiltered Concord grape – and it has me pausing to rethink grapes. I’ve also been seeing grapes roasted and added to pies and chicken dishes, and since I like anything roasted it seemed that cooking with grapes might open a whole new world. It did.

I tossed some black grapes into my skillet to sizzle in butter, and then poured in a splash of balsamic vinegar and a spoonful of honey. The fragrance of the grapes made my taste buds tingle and I could easily have eaten the entire skillet right then and there and called it good. While the fruit cooked, I whisked together egg yolks, honey and goat cheese, then whipped egg whites to fold in.

My soufflé puffed up into a golden brown beauty. I carefully pulled it from the oven and flipped it onto a serving plate so the grapes would be on top. Alas, I joined many others in a classic kitchen woe – my soufflé fell. Sigh.Were the grapes too heavy? Perhaps I lost volume when folding? I didn’t have enough grapes left to try again, so I began to nibble this one. With its caramelized edges, intense grape flavor and rich, delicate body, I had a hard time stopping. So, in the spirit of Julia Child, I declared victory and called it a soufflé-pancake. A success! And then I had to tuck the rest away so there would be some to share with my family later.

This would be ideal for supper with a green salad and glass of wine (more grapes!). You can be sure I’ll happily make this again, and no matter how it turns out it’ll be delicious. And those plump, balsamic-spiked grapes? Isaac has already requested them in place of blueberries for his birthday pancakes next year.

Balsamic Grape Skillet Soufflé
Adapted from Abby Dodge’s Caramelized Pear Skillet Soufflé
Serves 2 to 4

For the balsamic grapes
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
12 ounces black grapes, seeded if needed
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey

For the soufflé
2 eggs, separated and at room temperature
1/3 cup soft goat cheese at room temperature
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Have a flat serving plate ready.

Make the balsamic grapes:
In an 8 inch skillet (I used cast iron), melt the butter over medium heat until the foaming stops. Add the grapes and cook, stirring occasionally, until the grapes soften, for about 7-8 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and honey and stir to coat the grapes. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, until the vinegar and honey thicken a little. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside while you make the soufflé.

Make the soufflé:
In a medium bowl, whisk the yolks, goat cheese and honey together until well blended and smooth. Add the flour and salt and whisk until well blended.

In a (very clean) medium bowl or a stand mixer, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment on medium speed until the whites are frothy, 30 – 45 seconds. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until the whites are very foamy and barely soft peaks. Increase the speed to high and continue beating until the peaks are glossy and form soft, floppy peaks. Do not over mix. Scrape the beaten whites into the yolk mixture and gently fold until just blended.

Heat the skillet (with the grapes) over medium low heat until the mixture is warm. Arrange the grapes evenly in the bottom of the skillet. Gently pour/scrape the soufflé mixture into the skillet and smooth the top. Reduce heat to low and cook until the edges begin to look dry, 3 to 4 minutes.

Using a potholder, slide the skillet into the oven and bake until the top is puffed, golden brown and the center springs back when lightly pressed, 5 to 7 minutes. Working quickly and using potholders (the handle is hot), move the skillet to a cooling rack. Gently place the serving plate on top of the soufflé and invert. Carefully lift off the skillet. Using a small serrated knife, cut into wedges and serve immediately.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Fall Celebration and My Recipe for Happiness is celebrating their 15th anniversary with a Recipe for Happiness theme! I am delighted to join in the fun by sharing a guest post on their Fresh Bites blog. Pop on over to read my post here.

If you have not visited, please take some time to browse the wonderful array of recipes they have. There is something for everyone! Oven Scrambled Eggs was my introduction to Allrecipes back in 2007, and since then I’ve turned to this site countless times. I love that they’re located in Seattle, too!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pita and Labne: A Saj Party

A few years ago, we were in Israel for my older son Sam’s Bar Mitzvah.  It was a very special time shared with family and friends.  We rode camels to a Bedouin-style camp in the Judean desert, and enjoyed a night sitting around a campfire under the stars with Sam’s teaching, delicious food, local wine and a great feeling of joy.  I could not have been more proud!

The evening before the Bar Mitzvah, our friends Nitzan and Yael invited us for a pita and labne party at their home on their moshav. At the party, the pitas were cooked on a saj (similar to an inverted wok) over an open fire. These pitas were the most delicious we'd ever had! Labne (a soft yogurt cheese) was served to smear onto the pita along with za'atar (a spice blend found in Middle Eastern markets of sumac, thyme, sesame seeds, oregano and salt) and olive oil. The buffet table, set under a flowering tree, was full of fresh salads, fruit and drinks. A feast! After dinner, we lounged on the grass and sipped homemade mead and limoncello (made by Nitzan from their honey and lemons) and enjoyed Yael’s lovely cheesecake with ice cream and mulberries. Well, after that evening, we had to have a saj of our own and brought one home with us.

This past August, Nitzan and his family visited us in Seattle and brought homemade olive oil that they pressed from the olives they grow on their moshav. This is unbelievably good olive oil and such a special gift!

We have warm memories of Nitzan and Yael’s pita and labne party which have inspired us to cook over our saj many times in the backyard. When Maren was visiting us last month, we brought out the saj, lit a fire, filled the picnic table with food and spent the afternoon chatting and burning our fingertips on hot pita. Heavenly.

Pita and Labne
Serves 8

For the labne
1 1/2 cups whole milk Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
Olive oil for drizzling
Za’atar for sprinkling

Spoon the yogurt into a fine meshed yogurt strainer (or into some cheesecloth and tie up) and set over a bowl in the refrigerator to drain for 24 hours. The next day, remove the yogurt from the strainer or cheesecloth and stir the salt and olive oil into it. Taste for salt and add additional if desired. Serve in a small bowl with additional olive oil drizzled on top and a sprinkle of za’atar.

For the pita
2 teaspoons yeast
A pinch of sugar
1 cup warm water
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Zhoug for serving (purchase at a Middle Eastern market or make it at home – recipe here)

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast with the sugar in the warm water. Let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the salt, 1 tablespoon olive oil, all-purpose flour and 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour. Stir with a wooden spoon until it comes together. Now switch to kneading with your hands. Add the remaining flour until a nice dough forms (you may not need all of it). Knead on a floured board until smooth. Put dough back into the bowl and cover with a dish towel. Let rise for about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch the dough down and divide into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a 6-inch circle. Let sit for about 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a piece of parchment on a baking sheet and a put pan in oven to get hot.

Transfer 4 of the pitas to the prepared baking sheet and bake for 6 minutes. Repeat with remaining pitas.

Or, if you have a saj or large wok, suspend it on bricks over an open fire and grill the pita dough until puffed and blistered.

Serve the pitas with a bowl of labne drizzled with olive oil. Add a dollop of zhoug for some spice!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Homemade Beef Jerky for October Unprocessed

I am honored and delighted to be contributing to October Unprocessed today! Andrew Wilder created this fun, thought- provoking challenge three years ago on his terrific blog, Eating Rules. It gives us the opportunity to think about our food choices and how we can “un-process” the way we eat for better health (while keeping it delicious). I am inspired by the motivating posts I’m reading during this month-long movement, and am discovering tasty, creative recipes and helpful tips.

Today, I share one of my family’s favorite unprocessed snacks, Homemade Beef Jerky. Click here to read the full post and recipe. And if you haven’t taken the pledge yet, I encourage you to join in!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Kale and Polenta Stew

This morning is overcast. Normally, this is not an unusual observation in Seattle, but after the most glorious end-of-summer and start-of-fall we have had, ever, I am noticing. The warm sunshine, blue sky and crisp evenings have been such a gift. Now that rain appears imminent and the air turning chilly, thoughts are emerging of a warming bowl of stew and getting cozy around a fire.

I can’t resist a bowl of grains and greens. In fact, I will choose this over a bowl of beef stew (much to my family’s wonder). Given my love of kale, I frequently sauté a bunch or two with garlic and a little spice to enjoy as a side dish, or top it with a fried egg for a quick supper. Sometimes I may toss in leftover brown rice, too. In my opinion, grains and greens pair wonderfully.

With this in mind, I began thinking about a hearty stew. I always enjoy a bowl of comforting polenta, and stirring in my quick supper of kale, onions, garlic and chiles seemed a natural fit. For some protein, I added chickpeas. I’ve been inspired by Emmy (she writes a lovely blog with daily recipes I guarantee you’ll want to eat!) to cook a pot of chickpeas more often. This means I have a stash of these cute little legumes in the fridge or freezer ready to pop into a soup or salad, or to roast for snacking. I also save the cooking liquid to use wherever broth is called for, making it ideal for preparing the polenta for this stew.

The change in weather is eased by a bowl of Kale and Polenta stew, with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar adding the final touch. Frankly, I need more time to read, too - I’m in the midst of Wicked in anticipation of seeing the show here next month, and am having a hard time putting Japanese Farm Food down. I’m happy to come inside.

Kale and Polenta Stew
Serves 6

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 large carrot, sliced thinly
8 ounces (roughly 2 bunches) kale, stems removed and leaves chopped (I use Lacinato)
Crushed red chile pepper to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
7 cups chickpea cooking broth or vegetable stock
1 cup polenta
2 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (drain and rinse if using canned)
Balsamic vinegar to drizzle

In a large soup pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and carrots and stir to coat. Let cook until the veggies soften, about 5-6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and a few shakes of crushed red chile peppers. Add the chopped kale and toss for 2-3 minutes, until it begins to soften.

Pour in the broth or stock, increase the heat and bring to a boil. Slowly add the polenta, stirring the whole time to keep it smooth. Lower the heat and let simmer for about 20 minutes. It should be like a thick soup. Stir in the chickpeas and taste for seasoning.

Ladle into bowls and drizzle a little balsamic vinegar over the top of each before serving.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Huckleberry Jam

We are in that sweet spot between summer and fall with everything from peaches to pumpkins available. A farmers’ market paradise! This past week, as I wandered the market making my usual stops for Rachel’s Ginger Beer and Communitea’s Kombucha (though I’m starting to brew kombucha at home ... more on that to come), I was dazzled by the colors and beauty of everything around me.  My bag grew heavy as I picked up plums, peaches, tomatoes, blackberries and pears. The rest of my weekend was happily spent making more plum jam, the last peach dumplings of the season, tomato sauce, blackberry crisp and pear studded challah. Oh my!

Best of all, I stumbled upon a new discovery: Huckleberries! All of my life I’ve read about them, but given their short growing season I hadn’t yet had the pleasure of eating one of those dark purple berries. They have an intense flavor, but are smaller, firmer and, according to cookbooks I’ve read, more difficult to harvest than blueberries.

I had to preserve them somehow before I ended up popping all of them in my mouth! Jam was the way to go. I plopped the huckleberries in a pot and turned on the heat. A splash of maple syrup and some lemon zest and they started cooking. I snipped a bit of thyme and tossed that in, as well, since lemon and thyme pair so well. Bridging the seasons was definitely on my mind, because before I knew it I was chopping an apple to stir in.

This deep violet jam has a tart, rather wild, taste and is scrumptious. I’m eating it slowly and keeping it slightly hidden in the fridge so I can savor the taste of summer on my toast a bit longer.

Huckleberry Jam
Makes 1 cup

1 pound huckleberries
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1/2 of small apple, peeled and diced

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine all the ingredients over medium-high heat and stir. Cook until the berries begin to bubble and soften, about 6-7 minutes. Lower the heat to a simmer and let cook for about 20-25 minutes, until the berries thicken and pieces of apple can be mashed smooth. Stir often to avoid scorching on the bottom of the pan and lower heat if necessary. Remove from heat and let cool. Store in a covered jar in the fridge for up to 1 month.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Lamb and Date Stew for Sukkot

I could not be happier. October is here, we are celebrating Sukkot this week and the sun continues to shine every day.

Each year, the sounds of drilling, hammering and music on the radio (or sometimes a football game) ring out from the back yard as Bob, Sam and Isaac construct our sukkah. I cut branches from bushes around the yard for the sukkah’s roof, we string lights to decorate, and the picnic table is set for dinner.

Sukkot celebrates the fall harvest and we gather together to welcome guests into the sukkah. Sukkot also signals the time when I open my arms to fall cooking and embrace the warming soups and stews of the season.

Lamb stew is a favorite on our menu during Sukkot.  Hearty and cozy, it is a bowl full of rich flavor, spiced with ginger and cinnamon. I like to include dates and honey since their flavors melt into the lamb and evoke the sweetness of the holiday. This year I used date paste brought to us by our lovely friends, Galit and Roni, when they visited from Israel in August.  An extra sweet treat!

The stew is best made a day or two ahead of time, giving time for the flavors to marry. This makes it ideal to entertain with since you only need to pop it in the oven to warm while you pour wine and chat with your guests.

For the next week, we’ll have dinner every night in our sukkah. With the wonderful extended summer we’re having, we’ll be able to linger around the table and I am grateful for this gift.  And later in the evening, I love seeing the twinkling sukkah lights through the kitchen door as I call the dogs in and head out to close the chicken coop up for the night. Happy autumn.

Lamb and Date Stew
Serves 6-8

2 onions, sliced thinly
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces date paste (purée pitted dates with a bit of water in the food processor or use packaged date paste, usually found in a Middle Eastern market)
3 tablespoons honey
5 pounds boneless lamb, cubed
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup sesame seeds, plus more for garnish
Chopped parsley for garnish

In a Dutch oven or large, heavy soup pot, sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil over medium low heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger, cinnamon, salt and pepper and stir.

Add the date paste and break into small chunks to begin softening it. It will be sticky - don’t worry about getting it smooth, it will melt and blend as the stew simmers. Add the honey, lamb cubes, red wine and sesame seeds and stir gently to combine. Increase the heat to medium high until the stew begins to bubble, then lower heat, cover, and simmer for about 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. During the last half hour, remove the lid and let simmer uncovered to thicken and reduce the liquid.

Let the stew cool to room temperature, cover and pop in the fridge. It can be made a day or two ahead. On the day you want to serve it, remove and scrape any congealed fat off the top. Cover and warm in a low oven until ready to eat. Sprinkle with additional sesame seeds and a bit of parsley. It’s very good served with whole wheat Israeli couscous.