Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pearfect Parsnip Soup

Parsnips taste like carrots to me - if my eyes were closed when eating them, I'm not sure I could tell the difference, although the texture of a steamed or roasted parsnip is a little more firm and cellular than that of a carrot. Nevertheless, the classic pairing of carrot and ginger is what inspired me to this parsnip soup flavored with ginger, and the addition of pear was simply a whim. But give it a try, it's delicious. I left my very thick, so a small serving is enough as a side dish, but you could thin it out with more broth if you wanted it more soupy.

Pear-Parsnip Soup
Serves 4 as a side
1 large parsnip (about 12 ounces), peeled and cut in 1/2" dice
1 medium firm ripe pear, diced
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
olive oil
3 cups stock
3 coins fresh, peeled ginger (about 1" diameter, 1/2" thick)

Saute the onion in just a glisten of olive oil. Add the garlic once the onion is softened and stir to coat. Stir in the parsnip, ginger, and add the broth. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer 15 minutes or until parsnip is tender. Stir in the pear and return to a boil, then remove the ginger and puree the entire batch to desired consistency.

Serve garnished with a sprinkling of nutmeg and some pepitas (pumpkin seeds).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mussels with Roasted Tomato-Ouzo Broth

It wasn't until I went away to college and stayed with a friend's family in Baltimore that I finally started to enjoy crab. It was then that I eased into crab via crab cakes, bound with breadcrumbs, eggs, vegetables, and dipped in savory sauce. At home, we always ate fresh dungeness crab straight from Puget Sound with little more than a bit of mayonnaise or lemon juice, and as a child, I neither enjoyed nor appreciated such bounty from the sea. After a few good experiences wtih some Old Bay crab cakes as a young adult, I was ready to venture back toward plain crab and could truly savor it.

From there, I crept next toward oysters in my early 20's, which my dad would buy (or, on a good day, dig up himself) when we would vacation at Wescott Bay in the San Juan Islands. He would place them whole and fresh on the barbeque until they steamed open, then pry off the top shell, add a spoonful of cocktail sauce and we'd eat them straight from the grill.
Somehow, I don't remember when, I approached mussels - perhaps because they are similar in shape to oysters. Even as I gradually added these various shellfish to my repetoire of consumables, I hadn't come around to preparing them myself. What spurred me on was a craving for some good artisan bread, and a desire for some tasty, buttery sauce to dip it in. What better way to render a delicious dipping broth than to steam some mussels!

Joy of Cooking, Junior League of Seattle's Simply Classic, and Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking all have solid recipes for mussels. I found Julia particularly helpful when she said to "set the mussels in a bucket of fresh water for an hour or two so they will disgorge their sand and also lose a bit of their saltiness... Some cooks add flour to the soaking water on the theory thta while the mussles eat the flour and become fatter and more succulent, they are at the same time disgorging their sand more thoroughly." It was good to know I needed to start my recipe a couple of hours in advance to allow time for this step! However, when I asked my fishmonger about it, she had never heard of such a thing (don't worry Julia, I didn't quote my source). She said that our Penn Cove mussels are cultivated on ropes and aren't exposed to hardly any sand, and that soaking in fresh water will suffocate them. She recommended simply leaving them in the fridge under a loose damp towel, which is what I did. I also hadn't realized that the mussels die shortly after being debearded, so even though that is a crucial step in washing and preparing them for cooking, it can't really be done in advance or they will not be fresh. 

Because I wanted to try a step deeper than standard moules a la mariniere (mussels in wine and herbs), and because I also had a pint of grape tomatoes starting toward shriveling, I decided on Bon Appetit's recipe for Mussels with Tomatoes and Anise. It was fantastic and I will absolutely make it again, especially because I was able to make a second gourmet-esque meal from the leftovers (I know - sounds sketchy: leftover mussels? But it was delicious.) I made a few modifications, so my version is below.

Tomato Sauce
3-4 roma tomatoes (I used about 8 ounces grape tomatoes, which were delicious, but a lot of work to peel, which is why I'll try romas next time)
just enough olive oil to coat
1 spring rosemary
two large cloves garlic, tightly wrapped in foil
2 teaspoons balsamic
This only makes 1/2 cup of sauce, which is what the mussels recipe calls for, so I used a 9x5" loaf pan on the convection setting of my toaster oven. Coat the pan lightly with oil, place the rosemary spring in the bottom of the pan. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise, and lay cut side down on top of the rosemary. Brush tops of tomatoes with a little more oil. Roast at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until soft, but before juices start to burn or evaporate. Put the foil-wrapped garlic in the oven at the same time - it takes about 25 minutes as well.

Splash the balsamic vinegar in the pan as soon as it comes out of the oven and stir around to loosen any burnt tomato juices. Allow to cool and then pull skins off tomatoes and remove the rosemary spring. Unwrap the garlic from the foil, and the roasted insides should squeeze right out of the peel, or you can cut open the peel and scrape it with a knife to get the flesh out. It should be like a thick paste. Stir the garlic into the tomatoes and mash the sauce all up with a fork.

serves 4
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds mussels in shells
4 anchovie filets, chopped
6 tablespoons ouzo (anise-flavored liquor)
1/2 cup tomato sauce (see recipe above)
1/4 cup white wine
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
loaf of dense, crusty bread
Saute the onion and garlic in the oil until tender over medium, 6-8 minutes. Add the mussels, tomato sauce, anchovies, and ouzo, stir and bring to a boil. Add parsley and wine, cover, and simmer until mussels open, about 6 minutes. Serve mussels in shells in shallow bowls with broth and bread to soak up the sauce.

It's okay if there are only three of you for dinner - save the mussels (you can take them out of their shells) in their sauce in the fridge and check out my other post for another great recipe using the leftovers.

I thought these were immensely tasty. I'm sure the quality of our local yet esteemed Penn Cove mussels played a part, but I liked the idea of the tomato-anise sauce. The anise flavor was basically undetectable, but I'm certain it contributed significantly to the overall depth of flavor, and it gave me an idea for the side dish. I decided to play on the anise theme and serve baked fennel as the side. My friend brought a delicious mixed greens salad with roasted beets and goat cheese that was a beautiful blend of colors and flavors to accompany our meal.

Baked Fennel
from Lidia's Italy
1 head fennel (12 ounces)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 ounce prosciutto, sliced thinly and chopped
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
pepper to taste
Remove and reserve the delicate fronds from the top of the fennel, and cut the bulb into 8 wedges. You can also chop up the stalk into rounds if it is too awkward on the wedges. Add the fennel to boiling water and boil covered for about 12 minutes. Drain and layer into an 8" pan. Drizzle with melted butter, toss with prosciutto and, and sprinkle with cheese and freshly grated pepper. Bake uncovered at 350 for 25 minutes until cheese is bubbling. Garnish with chopped fennel fronds.
Note: this was just enough for three of us, but it was good enough that two of us would happily have consumed it all. I found the original recipe to have too much butter, so the amount is scaled slightly less.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Oatmeal Bread

There are so many criteria by which to judge good bread. And I love them all. Soft pillowy center. Crispy flakey crust. Crunchy exterior around a yeasty middle. Rich with grains. Sweetened or savory. Dense and thristy for some butteriness spread on its toasted face. And I love them all.

But today I wanted sandwich bread. Not just a delicious loaf to rip into and tear a hunk off of, but something to slice neatly and orderly to layer with fillings. Sandwich bread should be firm enough to be picked up with one hand and not flap apart, but soft enough to mold around its stuffing to hold it all together. It should be dense enough to spread evenly with mustard or peanut butter, but light enough to not overpower whatever tasty treats go inside. It should be flavorful, but not so flavorful that it can't go equally well with either cheese or jam. And it should have at least one flat side, but preferably three.

I have a lot of great bread recipes to try, saved up from specialty baking cook books and websites. But this sandwich bread order is another project entirely. I wish I could recall what search terms led me to the Clockwork Lemon blog, but whatever they were, they led me to this fantastic bread (and some adoreable cat photos!) It was also satisfying to discover that, although the author is writing from North of the border, the recipe she used was from Seattle's own Macrina bakery! A number of years ago, I spent some time with the very same cookbook in which this recipe originally appeared. But it wasn't until it was specifically called out here as "sandwich bread" that I took note, and the time to make it.

My analysis is that this is Darn. Good. Bread. Delicious flavor, soft interior but dense enough to hold up to a hearty buttering or ____ (choose your own adventure). Crispy crust without being crunchy. Perfect texture for sandwiches, excellent as toast. Overall, for sandwiches, it was just a little too sweet for anything other than my classic peanut butter. This makes sense since it used a lot more sugar than many bread recipes, so I when I try it again, I will simply cut back the sugar to 2-3 tablespoons (from 1/2 cup).  Bakes up full in two 9x5 (1.5 qt) loaf pans, (would surely overflow my smaller, more square-bottomed loaf pans) to make for those coveted three flat sides.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Soup-er Easy Black Bean Soup

I have made black bean soup a number of times, and always always love it no matter what the variation. Some have pumpkin. Some have apple cider. Some are spicy with chiles, some are rich with cumin and lots of hearty vegetables. Some are vegetarian, others are meaty, some are more like chili or stew than soup. But always always I've cooked my own beans. How else to make soup "from scratch"? Using canned beans is like "making dessert" by spooning instant pudding into a pre-made crust and calling it "pie."

So the first thing I said after taking a bite of this soup was, "It actually tastes good!?" Not because I thought it wouldn't taste good, I'll eat beans straight from the can and think they taste good. But because I hadn't researched or reviewed any recipes in advance, because I hadn't planned, and organized ingredients, because I opened a can for the main component, and because it was ready to eat in about 30 minutes included chopping time, I was very very surprised that this soup tasted like homemade, enough so that I wanted to get the recipe written down, and posted to share.

Delicious soup from (gasp!) canned beans.

Black Bean Soup
Serves 2
1/2 cup chopped onion
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1 can black beans, rinsed (I prefer lower-salt, especially because your broth might be salty)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, ground (or 1 teaspoon ground cumin)
1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano
cayenne pepper to taste
2 cups stock (vegetable or chicken)
top with jalepeno slices and shredded pepper jack cheese

Saute the onion and garlic in oil over medium heat about 6 minutes. Stir in carrot and saute about 3 minutes. Add beans, seasonings, and stock and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer about 15 minutes. Use an immersion blender to puree soup to desired consistency, adding more stock to thin if necesssary. Serve, topped with your favorite accompaniments: shredded cheese, sour cream or yogurt, jalepenos, chopped cilantro.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Breakfast at Tiffany's

I'm thirty-three years old and I just watch Breakfast at Tiffany's for the first time last week. It's true that I don't watch many movies, but even so, even I was surprised it took me so long to finally watch this classic. This weekend, I hosted a cocktail party, and while I'd been planning the menu for a couple of weeks and didn't really have any particular theme in mind, when it came time to get dress for the party, I was totally inspired by Audrey's updos that I'd just seen onscreen the day before.  Holly Golightly may not own cat, but she sure owns her hair. Nevertheless, but I guarantee the food at my cocktail party was a lot better than at hers, and with fewer flaming chapeaux.

First things first, Darling, the menu:

The recipe for Roasted Eggplant Dip is from one of my earlier postings, available here.

View my pumpkin party appetizers posting for my lamentations about my beloved curried pepitas. For this party, I modifed the recipe to make pecans, and the bowl was emptied twice over during the evening. For all you friends who requested the recipe, see below, but feel free to experiment with your favorite seasoning and spice blends to taste.

Garam Masala Spiced Pecans
1 egg white
1 tablespoon garam masala powder
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 cups raw pecans
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

Preheat oven to 350. Line baking pan with parchment. Whisk together first five ingredients. Stir in pecans to coat evenly. Stir in salt and toss. Spread on baking sheet. Bake until toasted, about 20 minutes, stirring every 6-8 minutes.

Allow to cool. Store in an airtight container.

Mushroom Tartletts
See my previous version of Mushroom Tartletts recipe for my preferred version of a tasty hors d'ouvres made with puff pastry in mini muffin tins. I reconfigured the filling for this party by replacing the basil with fresh sage, and rolling it into spirals of Pillsbury crescent dough. I was able to get about 30 slices from one package of dough, but making fewer would have allowed them to be a little easier to work with, thicker and more even spirals. I recommend freezing the rolls briefly before slicing to make them easier to cut, because mine were a little slippery and got a little squashed. Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes, or until golden.

Spinach-Basil Pom-Poms
These are based on a recipe my grandmother used to make for parties all the time, from one of her favorite cookbooks, Marlene Sorosky's Cookery for Entertaining. I love them because they can be made, and baked straight out of the freezer when you want them. I have dressed up the original into the version below.

10 ounces fresh spinach, washed and finely chopped
1-2 ounces fresh basil and oregano or other herbs to taste, finely chopped
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
black pepper to taste

Stir together greens, panko, and cheese. Mix in eggs, butter, pepper and nutmeg. Form into tightly packed balls, about one-inch diameter. Place on cookie sheet and freeze about 20 minutes, then transfer to plastic bag or container to store.

Bake at 375 for 15 minutes. Serve warm or room temperature. Makes about 30.

Cucumber Canapes
Will asked me, "what is a canape?" It's technically a piece of bread, toast, or cracker topped with a savory spread. These are cucumber canapes because they are cucumbers topped with a savory spread: crab salad. Use any ingredients you like. My version this time would have been better for summer, which fits with the refreshing juicyness of cucumber rounds anyway.
English cucumbers have fewer seeds, and their long thin shape makes for nice even cross-sections. If you have a channel knife (generally used to make citrus peel garnishes for beverages), use it to gouge away lengthwise stripes of skin in a decorative pattern before you slice the cucumber. Slice cross-wise about half-inch thick, and lay cut-side on paper towels to wick away some of the mositure.

For my topping, I mixed shredded crab meat (higher quality lump crab would be tastier, but it wouldn't bind together as well and would slip off your hors d'ouvres and be harder to eat) with a bit of olive oil mayonnaise, diced red bell pepper and corn kernals for delightful color, tarragon, lemon juice, salt and pepper, garnished with a snip of fresh chive.

Next time I'd love to try a crab salad version with lime juice,
fresh cilantro, and hot peppers garnished with avocado.

These are a great hors d'ouvres because they are hearty (both in that they last well and can be made and ahead and transport well, and in that they are nutritious, well-balanced and satisfying.) My recipe can be found here (makes 80 pieces), this time made with the addition of edamame. Will is in charge of the assembly, and likes to get creative with how he arranges the toppings on the rice cakes. I think they hold together best if you use the wasabi first as a bit of glue to secure the piece of salmon, then nestle the edamame next to the salmon and sprinkle with flakes of nori and sesame seeds.

No recipe here, these are SO easy. Use your favorite tortellini (these were tri-color four cheese),
favorite dressing (I like just balsamic and olive oil) then skewer with grape tomatoes and/or olives.
Depending on the size of the tortellini, use one or two per skewer.

Roasted Potatoes with Blue Cheese and Walnuts
Small baby red, yukon gold, and blue fingerling potatoes (1-2 per person)
Wash and dry potatoes, and cut into halves (thirds if large), trimming a small flat side off the uncut side so that they will sit flat on the platter. Toss with olive oil and roast at 425 for about 25 minutes, stirring once or twice during baking. Check after 20 minutes, you don't want them too soft or they won't stay together.

Allow to cool completely.

Pipe blue-cheese walnut dip (recipe below) on top of potato rounds. I tried to use a decorative tip, but the walnuts - even though they were finely ground - got stuck, so use a wide enough round tip. Garnish with a caper. I made 60 pieces, and used less than half the dip, so you can cut the recipe down if you want.

2 teaspoons walnut oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup greek yogurt
Stir together cream cheese and yogurt until well blended, then add remaining ingredients.
Recipe from Central Market

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes

I'm mixed on my review of this cake, it's a little bit tough, or gummy, but the frosting is SO
amazing, that you could probably eat it on cardboard and think it was delicious. I might make
it again, or I might find some other
delivery system, but either way the frosting is a sure repeat.

Chocolate-Bourbon Bars (I substituted the Kahlua in the recipe with bourbon)

Blackberry Walnut Thumbprints (I substituted the pecans in the recipes with walnuts, and used seedless blackberry jam)
"Stacked" Sushi

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Quinoa "Pie" with Delicata

I am not sure if I have eaten delicata squash before, but I recognize the name from recipes and menus, and I've purchased it many times as a decoration for my fall table. What I hadn't done was place the name with the skin, or recognize that the name delicata is actually a referencer to how delectably delicious it is!!

As part of my research-phase of the Pumpkin Party, I came across this recipe for Quinoa Pie with Butternut Squash. It sounded delicious and while it wasn't the right thing for my party menu, I knew I wanted to try it soon. However, also knowing what a struggle butternuts can be to prepare, I decided I'd sub-in a different type of squash. At the market, this lovely white-and-green-striped papaya-sized oblong had a sticker which read: "firm white meat, very sweet." Not sure where the "white meat" came from, as this was as orange as any acorn or butternut squash, but it was spot-on with respect to the sweet part.

It was a good thing, too, because the recipe in general was not spot-on. But I can forgive all the wasted time of dirtying an extra pan, and serving dinner 30 minutes late while waiting for the "pie" to bake, and the crunchy, dried-out quinoa grains that would have been perfectly tender without the baking step, all because of this delightful discovery of delicata.

Also true is that I entered into this recipe foray with a bit of trepediation, being as I frequently find issue with recipes from Martha Stewart. I said at the outset of this blog that it wouldn't be a place for any bashing, but in all fairness, I think it's simply good advice to "proceed with caution" when approaching any Marthaism.

My takeaways are:
- roasting delicata (cut into rounds, wedges, or however you want) with a light swipe of olive oil at 375 for 20 minutes is a great idea.
- pairing roasted squash with some fresh sage and quinoa cooked in broth and garlic and garnished with some parmesan makes for for a great side dish, or with salad and steamed broccoli a well-balanced and satisfying vegetarian entree.
- sauteed onions in your quinoa don't add much against the flavor and soft texture of the squash.
- baking this all into a pie is a complete waste of time and while it unmolded into an attractive dish, it didn't slice into wedges and simply crumbled into a spoon-able heap when serving. Plus, the extra baking dried out some of the quinoa giving it a distinctly unpleasant crunchiness.

My finished pie was still tasty, in spite of my reservations. I used red quinoa and delicata squash.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pumpkin Party - Desserts

While I love to bake year-round, there really is something about fall when the weather starts to get chilly and the days are shortening that makes turning on the oven so compelling. I think that's why I have scads of pumpkin desserts in my recipe files... right when baking season begins is also right when pumpkins starts showing up in the market and and the warm spices that are so complementary with pumpkin smell so soothing. 

Even though I generally made one every year for Thanksgiving, I was never much of a pumpkin pie fan. That was until a friend published an article in the Seattle Times  about the pumpkin pies at Costco. Something about her description of the pie-making process was so undeniably alluring that the very next trip, I purchased my first Costco pumpkin pie. And thought it was delicious. Not to mention the irrefutable satisfaction to scoring such a "value" - these pies are huge! But because they are so large, that ended up being the only time I ever purchased one. Sure, I could slice it and freeze individual portions, but truly, that amount of pie has no business in a household of two people.

Enter the pumpkin party. What better excuse to reenter the purvue of purchased pumpkin pie?? The ingredients alone would cost me more to make one myself, not even counting my time, or the energy to turn on the oven.

Alas, that's not how we do the pumpkin party. No pie from the box at this bash. The only box my desserts can come out of is my recipe box.

As it turns out, only one of my three desserts actually incorporated pumpkin in the recipe. But I think the "pumpkin palatte" of cinnamon-y spices qualifies as appropriate, as certainly does pumpkin-shaped orange sugar cookies.

Snickerdoodle "blondies" and pumpkin cheesecake bars.
Cheesecake bars make a great choice for parties, because they are elegant, rich enough that small squares can be amply satisfying, and must be done ahead.  Pretty much any cheesecake recipe can be adapted into a bar (alternatively, bake them in foil-cup lined mini-muffin pans for make ultra-sophisticated bite-sized desserts.) I usually use the same amount of crust and half the amount of filling for a regular 10-inch cheesecake when I bake it in a 9" sqaure pan for bars. I conglomerated crust and filling from various sources, including some of the pumpkin cheesecakes I've made in the past: Pumpkin Cheesecake Crumble Squares, Pumpkin Cheesecake with Caramel Swirl, Pumpkin Cheesecake with Bourbon Topping,  and this bar recipe from ChezUs. Here's what I came up with:

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars
Makes 30
7 ounces gingersnap cookies
2 tablespoons candied ginger, in small pieces
4 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
dash of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350. Pulse cookies, sugar, and ginger together in food processor until fine ground. Add butter and pulse until well-mixed. Line 9" square baking pan (or 8" for slight fewer, thicker bars) with foil. Firmly and evenly tamp crumb mixture into bottom of pan. Bake crust for 15 minutes. If it has bubbled up a lot, press crust down tightly with the back of a rubber spatula. Allow to cool somewhat.
Mix together all filling ingredients with food processor. Pour over crust and return to oven. Bake about 40 minutes, until set, but not dry. Allow to cool slightly, then cover and chill overnight. Cut into 30 bars, wiping knife blad between cuts to keep squares even.

I have always loved snickerdoodles. There's more to them than just the cinnamon-sugar; the cookie itself is a special kind of crispy-around-the-edges-but-chewy-in-the-center than can't always be easily replicated.  At the same time, there is enough to love about a snickerdoodle conceptually to take creative liberties in translating it into other formats. For example, I have a friend who swears by Trophy Cupcakes' snickerdoodle flavor, I'm planning on this snickerdoodle cake for my birthday this year, and when I spied snickerdoodle blondies mentioned on another blog, I knew I had a party-winner. I am going to write more about my thoughts on these at some point - I started the post last month and still haven't finished it, partly because it's a bit too rant-and-rave-y - so for now I'm just going to post the recipe itself, which I adapted from various sources.

Snickerdoodle Blondies
makes 20
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1 egg, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8x8 inch pan with foil. (An easy way to do this is to turn the pan over, and press the foil around the bottom, then lift it off and fit it neatly into the inside of the pan.)

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In large bowl, beat together butter, sugar, egg and vanilla until smooth.

Stir in the flour mixture until well blended. Spread evenly in prepared pan (batter will be stiff.) Whisk together white sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle evenly over the top of the batter.

Bake about 25 minutes or until set. Cool slightly. To cut, lift by edges of foil out of pan; peel back foil from sides of baked blondies and cut into squares. 

My favorite sugar cookies are posted on the "cookies" page, but here's the recipe again just to be convenient in case you want to copy my menu for your own pumpkin party!

Sugar Cookies
Makes 2 dozen
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons brandy (or amaretto)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream butter and sugar. Sift together dry ingredients. Add to the butter mixture and beat well. Add egg, brandy, and vanilla and beat again until well incorporated. Shape dough into two flattened rounds, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350. Roll out dough to 1/8" thickness. Cut into shapes and set on baking sheets 1 inch apart. If desired, sprinkle with color sugars or other decorations before baking. Bake 10 minutes, do not allow to brown. Cool on racks. Frost if desired.

And of course, a bowlful of mallowcreme pumpkins and sour jelly pumpkins!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pumpkin Party 2011 - Dinner

If you haven't already, you'll want to be sure and read the previous post which introduces the Pumpkin Party and shares the appetizers. Hopefully that got your sqaush juices flowing, and you're hungry now for the main course. 

The first year of the party, I made a butternut squash lasagne which was a big disappointment. First of all, this was before the days when Trader Joes sold pre-cubed squash, so I spent literally hours cubing a whole raw butternut, only to slip while carrying the bowlful and spilling the cubes all over the floor. Secondly, it was before I had enough experience to realize that cooking the squash first makes it about a thousand times easier to cut than doing it raw. Thirdly, the recipe I used just didn't have much flavor; it was a nice concept but it needed some tweaking with herbs and salt. The next few years, I made other pasta dishes with squash, tomatoes, and mixed vegetables, but this time I was ready to give  lasagne a second chance. I found a new recipe, and modified it a bit based on my previous experience, and was really happy with the results.

I started with this recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash, Rosemary, and Garlic Lasagne but made some additions. My version follows.

Alongside the lasagne, I served a stuffed pumpkin and a green salad (below). There is really nothing more perfect for a pumpkin party than filling the cavity of a pre-carved jack-o-lantern and popping the entire gourd into the oven. But something about it was intimidating. A friend of mine once served soup in a hollowed-out pumpking "bowl" but I never would have taken on this stuffed pumpkin had it not been for the recommendation of another friend who pointed me toward Dorie Greenspan's Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good. Since I like my parties to be vegetarian-friendly, I looked for another stuffing to use, but otherwise followed her inspiration.  I selected this Corn Bread, Apricot, and Pepita Dressing (I left out the eggs entirely, and half the recipe filled my 12-pound pumpkin completely, and served about 20 as a side-dish.)

Pumpkin stuffed with Green-Onion Cornbread, Apricot, and Pepita dressing.

Butternut Squash and Rosemary Lasagne
Makes 12 servings
1  3-pound butternut squash
olive oil
4 cups milk
1 cup cream
4 six-inch sprigs fresh rosemary, woody stems removed
2 large cloves garlic, minced (minimum one tablespoon)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces mushrooms (I used 10 baby portabellas), sliced 3/8" thick
9 sheets dry no-boil lasagne pasta
1 1/3 cups freshly grated Parmesan (about 5 ounces)
1/3-1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
Preheat oven to 450°F. and oil cookie sheet. Cut squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Place cut-side down on cookie sheet and roast until fork inserted through skin can penetrate, about 25 minutes. Allow to cool, then peel, slice, and cube in 1/2-inch chunks.

Meanwhile prepare bechamel sauce.
Bring milk and cream to simmer with rosemary. Simmer over low 10 minutes, then strain to remove herb leaves.
In a large heavy saucepan cook garlic in butter over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened. Add flour and stir roux over heat about 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and whisk in milk mixture in a stream until smooth. Return pan to heat and simmer sauce, whisking occasionally, about 10 minutes, or until thick. Stir in salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Reserve about 1 cup of sauce. Mix squash cubes with remaining 4 cups of sauce and mash until about half remain as cubes. (Sauce may be made 3 days ahead and chilled, its surface covered with plastic wrap.)  

Assemble lasange: Butter a 9x13x2" baking dish. Coat bottom of pan with about 1 cup of squash sauce. Lay 3 lasagna noodles over, so they are parallel but not touching. (They will expand as they bake.) Top with half of remaing sauce, and spread evenly over noodles. Layer with sliced mushrooms, evenly spaced but not overlapping. Top with 3 more noodles, sauce, and remaining mushroom in layers. Top with remaining noodles and the reserved cup of white sauce. Sprinkle with parmesan and hazelnuts, and garnish with a few short springs of rosemary.
Cover tightly with foil, tenting if necessary so foil does not touch the surface. (Can be made 24 hours ahead. Store in fridge.)

Preheat oven to 375. Bake for 35 minutes, uncover, and bake an additional 10 minutes until golden and bubbling. Allow to rest 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

Butternut Squash Lasagne being assembled.

Mixed Greens with Acorn Squash, Golden Raisins, Walnuts, and Sherry-Maple Vinaigrette
Serves 12
1/2 pound mixed greens (baby spinach would also be good, but not as colorful)
1 medium acorn squash
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts
Sherry Maple Vinaigrette 

Cut squash in half, scoop out seeds, and place cut-side down on oiled cookie sheet. Bake at 400 for 20-30 minutes until skin is easily pierced with a fork, but flesh is still firm. Allow to cool, then peel (the longer you cook it, the easier it will be to remove the skin, but the softer your cubes will be, making for a potentially messier salad.) It's a pain, but the easiest way I found was to cut the squash into thin slices (about 1/2 - 1" thick) and use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin, then cube for bite-size salad pieces. Toss with remaining ingredients.

Notes on vinaigrette: I only made a half-recipe, and only used half of what I made to dress the amount of salad in the recipe above. I used half walnut oil/half vegetable oil, and sherry cooking wine because I didn't have sherry vinegar.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pumpkin Party 2011 - Appetizers

The pumpkin party started a number of years ago partly as a way for me to throw myself a birthday party without anyone bringing me cards and presents. As an only child and only grandchild and end-of-the-family-line in all manner of consideration, my birthday already garners ample attention from my relatives. The other factor is just that while summer offer the prime weather months for entertaining, there's really so much to do outside to have time to plan a big party. But when everyone's home from their summer vacations, and the days start to get damper and darker, that's the season when I like to start sorting through recipes, firing up the oven for baking blitzes, and quashing the doldrums with a great group of friends.
Thus gestated the Pumpkin Party.

The gist of the party is to wear festive fall colors, decorate the house with gourds and candles, and eat from a menu where some form of pumpkin, squash, or similarly vibrantly-colored food is incorporated into every dish. Pumpkin Party menus from years past are posted here and I try not to make do repeat some of my favorites every year. 
Click on the menu for a larger, legible version. This post is about the snacks,
check later posts for recipes for the dinner and desserts.

For example, I absolutely adore the Curried Pepitas, and think they are fabulous for snacking, but also are terrific sprinkled on salads. They would be delicious atop a butternut squash bisque or cauliflower chowder. They have the satisfying crunch of nuts, without being quite so rich. And the spicy saltiness makes them an excellent accompaniment to cocktails or beer. For some reason, no one has ever seemed as excited about these as I am. Will tells me he appreciates them as a condiment, but would never bother to snack on them alone. Finally this year, a friend's husband who hadn't attended the party in the past scarfed these down even faster than I do and I finally feel vindicated in my love for them. I can't imagine a pumpkin party without these somewhere on the menu. This year, I just had them out in a bowl alongside drinks.

Other munchings included kalamata olives, and a pumpkin-bean dip with carrots and pita chips. Any beans would work great in this dip; I've previously made a black bean-pumpkin dip (great for Halloween!) and cannelini or pinto beans would both also be good for their soft texture and mild flavor. I selected cranberry beans because I think their colored striations are so appealing, and also of-the-season. Of course, none of that is visible once they are blended to a paste and mixed with pumpkin puree! But the name paints a visual picture that contributes to the taste almost as much as the actual flavor in the mouth.

Cranberry Bean and Pumpkin Dip
makes about 4 cups
1 cup dried cranberry beans, soaked overnight in cold water
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds, freshly ground (or 1 teaspoon powdered)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup vegetable broth

Rinse soaked beans and cover with 1 inch of water. Bring to simmer, and cook covered over low heat 25-35 minutes until soft.
Drain, and transfer to food processor. Add pumpkin and seasonings. Puree, adding broth by the tablespoon until mixture blends smoothly and is desired consistency. I like mine as smooth as possible, but you can leave it a little chunkier if you prefer. Serve with chips, crackers, or crudites.

I'll share about the rest of the repast in upcoming posts, so check back soon!