Monday, October 14, 2013

What to do on a very rainy day?

It is a rainy day.  One of those days where it rains and rains and rains so the best way to spend it?  Thinking about food and cooking, of course.
Oh wait...I do that everyday!
I kind of like the occasional gloomy day where you really should just stay inside (if you can).  I think fall weather may be trying to actually take hold this week with highs in the 60's and lows in the 40's and I am ready for it!  Fall is when I am most productive with brisk days and even brisker nights.  You can really get some traction with all kinds of fall-ish food and the change in the seasonal produce.  I love all of the winter squash varieties.  I think they are so much more interesting in flavor and texture than their summer brethren.  I have a deli case full of butternut squash from my boyfriend's garden and they are big and beautiful and waiting to be made into one of my favorite soups and I really don't even like soup.  I know, I know, anathema but I just don't really like soup.  Well, let me clarify.  I like soup once.  I don't want to eat it over and over again until it's gone.  And, you know, that's kind of the point of soup...that you can eat it many times and it gets better each day (to a point).  And, I agree it does get better but I still don't want to eat it more than once.  There, I'm done with the whole soup situation. favorite soup and one that I created from scratch (yes, here comes another exercise in cooking without a recipe but I will give you the soup recipe) is Roasted Butternut Squash Soup.

This was a soup that was inspired by many restaurant-made squash soups and here's how I did it.
First, I knew that I wanted to use squash puree hence the need for roasting until soft.  Part of the reason is I don't like to cut up raw squash so if I can find an excuse to roast it for a recipe, I will!  But it also gives you an opportunity to instill additional flavor because it is seasoned for the roasting process.

From there, I thought of flavors that go well with the buttery, slightly sweet yet still savory squash.  This is where you can go crazy but try adding or changing ingredients/amounts one at a time so you have control over what is happening with the soup.

I love Asian/Thai flavors (I think you all know) so I leaned toward curry and ginger.  The trick is to saute the curry and ginger together before adding squash puree.  That step really brings out the essential oils and aromatics. To add to the sweetness, I included an apple along with onion and carrot.

Then to make it creamier, just a little heavy cream after I used the immersion blender to really smooth out the texture and make it velvety.  Butternut squash is really good at being velvety.

As an aside, you could also take this recipe in a more Mediterranean direction with rosemary, thyme and carameliized onions...hey, maybe that's where we'll go next with this soup!
In the meantime, here is the really great recipe for my "favorite" soup.  And, just try to tell me that it ISN'T restaurant quality.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Serves 12

¼ cup unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 sweet/tart apple (like Fuji), peeled, cored, finely chopped
¼ cup (scant) grated fresh ginger
4 – 5 tbsp good curry powder
3 medium butternut squash, roasted, flesh removed
2 quarts chicken broth or stock, unsalted
1 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt
Black pepper

Melt butter in large heavy stockpot or saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion, carrots, and apple, season with salt and cook until soft but not caramelized. 
Add ginger and curry powder and cook until the spices are fragrant.

Meanwhile, place roasted squash in the workbowl of a food processor and puree (it will be thick).  Add enough chicken broth or stock to thin it to a heavy cake batter consistency.  Add sautéed vegetables and spices to the processor and continue to puree until the mixture is quite smooth.

Return puree to the pot and process with an immersion blender.  Begin adding chicken broth or stock until the consistency is similar to heavy cream.  Allow soup to simmer briefly then add cream and warm slowly over medium low heat.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve with large homemade croutons.  It is also nice to add crumbled bacon over the top with a drizzle of sour cream.

And as always...
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Monday, October 7, 2013

Makes my day!

I have been challenging myself in the last few months, trying to learn things that are not all together unfamiliar but the nuances of pulling this endeavor off have been daunting, at times.  I am a lifelong learner, however, that was instilled in me as a child.  And, I tell myself that my brain will continue to function at a much higher level if I keep learning new things.  Was it Oliver Wendell Holmes that said, "a mind stretched to a new idea never returns to its original shape" or something like that.  Forgive my rather sad effort at quoting him but I think you get the point.
In any event, in the cooking arena (where I am very comfortable), I am happy to say I have several people who attend my classes regularly.  One of my "regulars" is quite gifted and creative and emails me often when he comes up with a new dish.  I received one of those emails this morning as I was toiling away at my PowerPoint presentation that is critical to my new project.  His creativity, excitement and desire to share with me makes my job more than satisfying and confirms that this new project (yes, food-related) is precisely what I need to be doing.  He thanked me for providing him with great ideas.  He had just attended a Cuban cooking class where we made the traditional sofrito so important in Cuban cuisine.  He had, of course, taken the idea from the class and then pushed the creative envelope with a whole chicken on the grill under a brick, etc., etc.  I have no doubt that it was absolutely delicious.  His fearless experimentation is the essence of what I endeavor to teach in all of my classes.  Cooking has so little to do with following recipes but much more with the attitude and enthusiasm that you bring to the mix.  That's what makes it fun and makes it worthwhile not only to others but to yourself.
So, thanks, Mike for sharing.  You make my cooking and teaching meaningful and more than worthwhile.
For those of you who might be just the least bit curious and were not able to attend our Night in Havana, here is the sofrito recipe....and please, don't hesitate to be fearless!

Cuban Sofrito
Serves 6

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano, crushed
2 bay leaves
2 tomatoes, chopped (optional)
¾ cup canned tomato sauce

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion and garlic, and cook until onion is translucent. Add the bell pepper, and saute until tender.  Season with salt, pepper, cumin, oregano and bay leaves.

Continue cooking until the mixture becomes a paste.  Stir in the tomatoes and reduce slightly.  Gradually stir in the tomato sauce simmer until the color changes to deep red.  Taste, and adjust seasonings if desired. 
Remove bay leaves before serving.